I suspect the same is true for a lot of gigs at the moment, but there’s nearly as much to write about the background to this, the last show on Pure Reason Revolution’s ‘Reunion’ tour, as there is to write about the actual gig itself. It had originally been rescheduled for October 2020, in line with the release of their first album since the band went on ‘hiatus’ in 2011, the excellent Eupnea. The show was rescheduled at least twice, which included a change of venue, from the Islington Assembly Hall to EartH, in Hackney (that is the correct way it’s printed, it stands for Evolutionary Arts Hackney), which is a converted disused cinema, previously left empty for 40 years. There’s a lot of fine art deco decoration that could do with a bit of TLC, but while it’s all seated, with wooden benches mostly, there’s a good sound and a huge stage.
This was a joint headlining tour with Norwegian band GAZPACHO, with the bands alternating as headliners, with London seeing the Scandinavians opening the show. As singer Jan Henrik Ohme noted, a lot of their releases are concept albums, which makes putting a set list together a bit of an adventure, but this was a pretty fair representation of the band’s work. They used inventive and thoughtful back projections, and for the most part the sound was really good, although there’s so much going in their music, some of it was lost, particularly some of the guitar parts. One thing that sets Gazpacho apart is the work of Mikael Kromer, who as well as playing guitar, also adds violin to give the band an added dimension, although without the screen, this isn’t the most visual of bands. Highlight of the set for me was the combination of ‘Clockwork’ and ‘Hell Freezes Over part 1’, with the music and riffs building to a terrific conclusion. A mention too for ‘set closer ‘Sapien’ and the encore, ‘Winter is Never’, both fine pieces of classic prog, rounding off a really enjoyable set.
It was a sad day when PURE REASON REVOLUTION called a halt a decade ago. Although Jon Courtney and Chloe Apler now insist it was never meant to be permanent, as the decade went by it began to look as if the band were no more. However, the news that they were working together again, writing a new album and then playing an emotional return show in Germany, meant this was a much anticipated gig. The current incarnation of the band includes Michael Lucas on drums, and guitarist and vocalist Greg Jong, who’d played a big role on Eupnea, but there was some consternation when it was announced that Chloe Alper wouldn’t be appearing due to other commitments. Her replacement for the tour was Annicke Shireen, who did a fine job on synthesiser and vocals.
The set was structured interestingly, with a big slice of newer music to begin with, including ‘Silent Genesis’ from Eupnea, then ‘Phantoms’, from the yet to be released new album. Although the band had a big and enthusiastic reception when they came on stage, the show started slowly, with the sound not quite right, the vocals being almost inaudible at times, although you were still able to feel that balance between fragility and growing intensity that makes them such a compelling band. After ‘Phantoms’, the band called a brief halt, with Jon Courtney explaining that the guitar tuning unit had gone awry. Gremlins sorted, although the vocal levels weren’t really righted until later in the set, the band then went into a big slice of music from their much loved debut, The Dark Third, including the majestic ‘Bright Ambassadors of Morning’, which had a lot of the crowd joining in. This led into another track from Eupnea, the brooding ‘Ghosts and Typhoons’ accompanied on the screen by images from its atmospheric promo video.
There seemed to be a slight pause before the opening notes of ‘Deus ex Machina’ brought a huge cheer from the crowd. When this first came out, it was a startling blend of electronica, prog and rock, but it works even better live, and if the band’s set was already moving through the gears this took it to a new level. This turned out to be the last song in the main set, but the band returned to play ‘AVO’, which gave the crowd another chance to sing, and bring the set to a close.
Apart from the initial gremlins, the only quibble you could have about this set was its brevity, the band were only on stage for just over an hour, including the encore, but it was a real pleasure to see them back and when they really got into their stride, they showed just what a potent live band they can be. With a new album, Above Cirrus, imminent, Jon Courtney has already promised a return to live work in 2023, with the hope of more gigs around the UK rather than a one off like this. It’s great to have them back.