Review by Paul Quinton
It’s always a pleasure to see Magenta return to the Robin, and this gig was no exception. It was one of a short series of dates tied to the release of their most recent album, ‘We Are Legend,’ which the band would be playing in full for the first time, although some of it had been included in the set the last time they played here. The band also took the opportunity to include a complete performance of one of their earlier albums, ‘Seven’, which they’d planned to do during a tour a few years ago, but which circumstances had caused to be cancelled.
There was a very good crowd in The Robin, possibly the biggest the band have ever drawn in the venue, when the band took the stage slightly earlier than the advertised start time of 8.30, and there was a hint of what sort of evening might be in store when singer Christina Booth did her very best to disconcert promoter Stephen Lambe as he introduced the band. The show began with one Magenta’s very best songs, although not from one of the evening’s featured albums, ‘Speechless’, which was, as Christina explained, to warm up with, before the band went straight into the latest album with ‘Trojan’. It’s a long and intense piece of music, almost 26 minutes long on the record itself, but such was the band’s focus and the way the music moves through its various moods and parts, it genuinely didn’t feel that long, and at the end the applause was loud and long. The other two tracks on the album could have been a bit of an anti climax, but were just as good in their own way. Special mention here for the rhythm section of Dan Nelson on bass and drummer Giffy Griffiths, who were both hugely impressive on the night. Giffy is an eye-catching performer, technically brilliant, and with a drive that keeps pushing the band, while Dan does his work more quietly, but adding so much to the band’s overall sound, and his looping bassline in ‘Legend’ stayed in the mind for a long time after the gig.
After the first section, there was a diversion from the playthroughs for ‘Prekestolen’, which allowed the band to introduce their extra musicians for the evening, Karla Axelsen on flute and Katie Powell on oboe, which would also allow the band a chance to check sound levels before beginning the playthrough of ‘Seven’, although alongside a gorgeous vocal from Christina, the accompaniment was just the flute, the oboe and piano and acoustic guitar. Interestingly, the song’s ending was amended slightly to include a snatch of ‘Bridge Over Troubled Water’, which fitted in well with the song’s mood.
Then to ‘Seven’, an album with a loose concept built around the deadly sins. beginning with, ‘Gluttony’, which sounded somewhat heavier than in previous shows, followed by an absolutely sumptuous ‘Envy’, complete with a middle section that would have been quite at home on ‘A Trick Of The Tail’. Other bands end shows with songs less anthemic than this, and for a song that isn’t played very often, it brought the house down.
Moving onto the opening part of ‘Lust’, it became clear that whatever tweaks the band had made to the songs to allow for the extra instruments had given familiar songs an extra dimension, although this did occasionally result in the sound becoming a little muddy, losing one or two of the other musicians in the mix. It didn’t diminish the performances, though, there was some outstanding playing, particularly from Chris Fry’s guitar and there was a gorgeous flute solo from Katie Powell in ‘Anger’.
Perhaps surprisingly, the main set ended with ‘Sloth’, meaning only six of the album’s seven tracks were played, making it fairly obvious what at least one of the encore songs would be. ‘I paid for ‘Seven’, not ‘Six’, shouted one punter, sounding mildly disgruntled. I remember Magnum doing something similar on their ‘On A Storytellers Night’ Anniversary Tour, where they too saved a song for the encore. In a way it’s understandable, especially as this was already a two hour-plus show, but it would have been nice to have heard the album in full in one go, then some surprises in the encore. However, they did pull one out of the hat when they came back on, with a glorious ‘Lizard King’, which began, as ever, with Christina trying to teach the crowd the handclap section, before the final song from ‘Seven’, ‘Pride’, finished things of in brilliant style. Some of the guitar/keyboard interplay between Rob Reed and Chris Fry was out of this world.
As I said earlier, it’s always a joy to see this band play live, but tonight was something special, despite the minor gripes over the setlist and sound. The band played superbly, with every musician at the top of their game, including the extra players, Christina Booth showed us exactly why she has few rivals on the UK Prog scene as a singer, and yet there’s always a sense of fun about the band, laughing and joking, with a lot of friendly mickey taking. An early entry on the short list for Gig of The Year, but can we do it all again, and soon, please?