Review by Paul Quinton, photos by Mark Lloyd
A highly attractive double bill finished its UK stint at the Robin on the night before storms were supposed to be about to ravage the country, but a sizeable crowd in The Robin demonstrated that prog fans are a hardy bunch and that the right combination of bands is still one of the best ways to sell tickets.
The two bands had been swapping headline and opening roles, but for The Robin, Finland’s Von Hertzen Brothers began the show and proceeded to give the crowd one of the most original, and surprising sets it had seen for a while. Whatever your own opinion of what constitutes ‘Progressive Rock’, this was something completely different, taking in elements of rock and prog and creating something genuinely and startlingly fresh.
As might be expected, a lot of the set was focussed on the acclaimed ‘Nine Lives’ album, opening up with ‘Insomniac’, and straight away you noticed how good the sound was, loud but every instrument and every vocal was clear, including the lush harmonies that help to give the band part of its identity. ‘Insomniac, was played as the album version, unlike the Billy Idolesque ‘Coming Home’, on which the oldest Von Hertzen brother, the impressively bearded Kie, takes the lead vocal and which ended with four of the band closing out the song with an extended drumming workout. As the set went on, each song seemed to have its own identity, from the Sabbath-like riffs of ‘In Your Eyes’, via ‘Angel Eyes’, when the band’s sound appeared to be growing in volume and power, to the glorious live version of ‘Flowers And Rust’, with its irresistible chorus. The latter song recently took the prize for the ‘Anthem of the Year’ at the Prog Awards, and you can easily see why.
The last song in the set was ‘I Believe’, with a lengthy instrumental play out, bringing to an end a fine, fine set. No doubt there’s a debate going on somewhere on the ‘Net about whether or not the Von Hertzen Brothers are prog or not, but irrespective of what label you might want to put on the band, this was absolutely terrific stuff.
Under almost any circumstances, following a set like that would have been a test for any band, but Touchstone seemed up against it almost before their set started. No doubt the band felt under a little more pressure than usual with the set being filmed for a DVD, and wanted to get conditions absolutely right, but there did appear to be some technical problems delaying their set, and there was a longer than usual delay between the house lights going down and the band’s intro tape starting. Like the Von Hertzens, Touchstone built the set around their most recent album, ‘Oceans of Time’, opening with ‘Flux’, and immediately it was noticeable how much heavier the band have become since their last appearance at the Robin, although, perhaps oddly, they didn’t seem quite as loud as the openers. This was also reflected in the older songs, such as ‘Strange Days’, which was the heaviest version I’ve ever heard of the song. This concentration on the newer material meant there was no room for some of their better known work including songs like ‘Zinomorph’ and ‘Joker in The Pack, although it’s possible some may have been omitted to meet the Robin’s curfew..
One thing about the new album that’s provoked some discussion is the decreased presence of Rob Cottingham’s keyboards, which in the past have done a lot to add colour and presence to the band’s material, both live and in the studio, and whether because of the nature of the band’s new material, or some vagary of the sound, his keys were mostly inaudible tonight, more often than not drowned by Adam Hodgson’s guitar. Cottingham’s also a pretty good singer, and his voice normally dovetails well with Kim Seviour’s, but again, his singing was rarely audible during the band’s set. As far as the new material goes, that’s as much down to circumstance as anything, but it was a pity it applied to the older material played on the night as well.
In the end Touchstone’s set may have been cut short because of the initial delay, with the main set lasting barely 50 minutes plus a two song encore, I don’t think this was the band’s finest hour, which was a shame considering the filming, and the crowd and the whole atmosphere seemed a little flat after the Von Hertzen’s set. This was undoubtedly the Finn’s night.
See more of Mark’s photos here:
Hi Martin, thanks for taking the time to post. It’s getting to that time when we at Midlands Rocks have to pick our gigs/albums of the year, and October turned out to make this really difficult for me, as I had saw three gigs that went right onto the short list, Camel, Steven Wilson and this set by the VHBs. Three bands that are all called prog but each so different. So much great music out there.
Couldn’t agree more. This was the first time I have seen the Von Hertzen Bros and to be totally honest (and this is from someone who has seen Led Zep,Pink Floyd (with Waters!), AC/DC (with Bon) and countless other bands over 4 decades+) this set rated as one of the top 5 I have EVER seen. The music totally took over, the band were mesmerising in their interaction , the musicianship was incredible, and they sounded so fresh it was like a bright new dawn ! I haven’t felt so entranced by a band since the first time I saw Gentle Giant live (old proggies with know only too well what I mean!). I felt really quite sorry for Touchstone and I found I just couldn’t concentrate on their set, and it did fall quite flat. I shall give them another chance though.
Can I also say what gentlemen the VHBs were. they waited until after the Touchstone set before coming out to the merch stand so as not to distract from their co-performers, because of course everybody wanted a word with them. They were open,friendly, signed all that was given to them (and not just a scribble but in Kie’s case a message to me on each of my 5 CD inserts !!)
What a band, what lovely blokes and I can’t wait until they get back here next year (they will be back – and that from both Kie and Mikko) Never has the word AWESOME been put to better use – this lot define it.
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