The Classic Rock Society Presents
The Tangent & Unitopia
Friday, 22nd October 2010
The Luminaire, London
Article & All Photographs By Jon Bradshaw
The Luminaire is a lovely, intimate venue in Kilburn, North London and tonight, The Classic Rock Society have hired it to set up a potentially wonderful line up with Unitopia and The Tangent sharing the stage. Unitopia are at the end of a European tour promoting Artificial and The Tangent of what Andy Tillison described as, ďA long road back.Ē Sporting a band that features members old and new, not least of whom, is Theo Travis joining the band tonight after a considerable time away from the Tangentís live set-up. On paper it all looks exceptionally tasty.
Unitopia are first onto the stage which is tiny and crammed with equipment. Once the six members of Unitopia have taken their places, thereís barely room to swing a finger, let alone a cat. Sean Timms (Keys) is largely to blame for these cramped conditions. His keyboard array is vast and he looks like heís commanding the bridge of the Starship Enterprise from behind them where only his head and shoulders are visible. They open with Suffocation and Artificial World and itís an almost perfect rendition, met with warmth and appreciation by the faithful gathered before them, but I guess that most of the audience are here for The Tangent and Unitopia may be a new proposition for some. After Nothing Lasts Forever and a truly stunning version of Tesla, the crowd are definitely won over as a robust and enthusiastic cheer greets its conclusion. The second half of the set features earlier material with Angeliqua, then More Than A Dream from their debut album and closing with a jaw-dropping performance of The Garden.
Several things are amazing about this set and one or two are not so impressive. The two stand-out performances for me are from Mark Trueack and Ian Ritchie who has joined the band for this tour on woodwinds, contributing tenor and soprano saxophone, clarinet and backing vocals. He is clearly enjoying himself and supplies one brilliant solo after another, lending the gig something of a jazz club feel as the audience applaud knowledgably and appreciatively after each one. Mr. Trueack is a revelation. Physically, he is quite a presence , being a tall man who occupies a fair proportion of the limited space and vocally, his performance is nothing short of phenomenal. Pretty much pitch perfect throughout, Markís distinctive delivery combines delicacy, gentility and sensitivity with precision and controlled power, lending heaps of personality and emotion to Unitopiaís beautifully structured compositions.
Matt Williamís guitar work shifts effortlessly between voicings and styles with a crisp and vibrant tone to die for, as he gurns and pops his eyebrows with each note and accent. Seanís keyboard work is impeccable and is the powerhouse for the bandís sound, providing depth, elegance and richness with outstanding clarity. The rhythym section is in three parts with Tim Irrgang on percussion whose work is subtle but immensely characterful, adding grace, texture and sonic colour to the performance. Bass and drums are handles by David Hopgood and Craig Kelly respectively. Both are new additions to the band and it does show ever so slightly as they seem to be less bedded in than the others, which is only natural. Indeed, Hopgood, or ĎHoppyí as he is affectionately known, loses his way on a couple of occasions, but no one seems to mind and itís all taken in good humour which is a feature of their relaxed and happy demeanour on stage tonight. I do feel for Chris though , who is literally perched on the edge of the stage in a corner and unable to move anything but his hands and head. At the same time, his amp is less than thirty centimetres from his backside, so quite how heís able to hear anything at all is a wonder. I am 100% confident it wasnít coming from Chrisí rig, but their sound is blighted throughout the set by some troublesome bass feedback. Again, no one in the band seems to be remotely concerned and they press professionally on.
Overall, this is a terrific demonstration of deftness, design and delivery from Unitopia that leaves me wondering how on earth The Tangent can top that, and itís not long before the stage is reset for them to rise to the gauntlet Unitopia have laid down. This is The tangentís first gig proper with their new line-up which comprises Andy Tillison on Keys and Vocals (of course) and Jonathan Barrett on Bass (Jonathan who played on Down And OutÖ) with new guitarist, Luke Machin, new drummer Tony Latham and, one of the main draws for the evening, Theo Travis makes his return to The Tangent fold on Woodwind.
Unlike Sean Timms, Andy Tillison uses only two keyboards with a Moog Emulator and a laptop, so there is plenty of room now and centre-stage is cleared for Theo. Andy later tells us that, during the soundcheck, Theo asked why heíd been put in the middle. Clearly, Mr. Travis was uncomfortable with this and spent a lot of the time when he wasnít actively playing looking abashed and slightly self-conscious, unsure what to do with his hands. When he played howeverÖ Wow! ďThatís why youíre in the middle!Ē declared Andy. Theoís work throughout the evening is mesmerising as he shifts from haunting to filthy to mercurial. Combined with a handy little effects box he is able to create chiaroscuros of sound; capturing his live playing and recording it so he can play another line over the top, and so on. Tonight is turning out to be a real treat for flute and saxophone lovers.
Technology in music is wonderful indeed but Andyís equipment, much like himself, appears to be in varying states of entropy and behaves erratically. However, Andy is an amazing showman and none of this matters, he actually makes it all seem amusing to watch. Once he gets everything to conform to his will, he is in top fettle; jumping and bouncing, arching and flexing, he cavorts around behind his keys like an ecstatic shaman, simultaneously possessed by and conducting the enormous sound the band create. I say that, but one thing about The Tangentís music is its dynamic complexity. Their compositions are serpentine and spiky, ranging from all-out rock onslaughts to poignant simplicity with just piano and voice, and this can happen within a few measures of the same song, never mind from one song to the next. Whilst I love their studio work, this is the first time Iíve seen them live and their music makes sense in a whole new way, driven by Andyís sparking, anarchic, impassioned spirit, his socially-conscious narratives in the lyrics and his superb playing.
Superb playing is something of a keynote for the night actually, and I must make special mention of Luke Machin who is something of a prodigy. This lad has superstar written all over him. At only 21, he is laying out some incredibly mature and sophisticated guitar work; holding back or letting loose, everything he does is dripping with class and individuality. Heís great to watch too, very audience aware you might say; punctuating every riff with nods and eyeballs and ecstatic faces, falling somewhere between a Barnum guitar clown and guitar deity. Itís wonderful to see such unpretentiousness, open enjoyment of his craft, the music and the live situation. To be fair, he doesnít always hit every mark tonight, nor is he always in the pocket. Heís not perfect, but therein lies his youthful charm, and nor does it detract from his own or the bandís performance.
Backing up all of these histrionics from Messrs Tillison and Machin are Jonathanís fluid fretless bass motifs, dourly and expertly delivered in inconspicuous style. Mixing the eccentric musical acrobatics of Percy Jones with the gargantuan heavy roar and distortion of Lemmy, Jonathan Barrett has no concern for spectacle, but every heed for sound. Partnering him is new boy Tony Latham on drums. This man is incredible. It was truly a privilege to be in such close proximity to such an amazing tub-tickler. Mind you, be under no illusion, Tony is a big feller and he leathered the living daylights out of that kit at times. Genuinely one of the best drumming performances Iíve had the pleasure to witness.
I was so absorbed by everything that was going on, I totally forgot to take any notes that would remind me of the setlist. I can tell you that they played Peroxotine, Perdu Dans Paris, The Music That Died Alone and they closed with an absolutely staggering rendition of In Earnest which was met with a tremendous, ecstatic cheer from the enraptured audience. I mean no disrespect at all to Unitopia because they were brilliant, but, díyou know what? Not only did The Tangent take up the gauntlet that Unitopia had left on the stage, they chewed it up, spat it out and rubbed it into the dirt. I am blown away. Iím writing this two days after the show and Iím still reeling. I reckon thatís amongst the best three hours Iíve spent at a gig any time in the last 30 years.
Unitopia have been, shame you missed them if you did. They are a formidable, joyous outfit to watch and I hope they return to our shores sooner rather than later. Make the effort to travel to wherever they are playing near you, wherever you are in the world. You will not be disappointed. The Tangent are back! They have left me breathless with excitement. An unforgettable night. 10 out of 10.
The Tangent Photographic Gallery
Unitopia Photographic Gallery
The Tangent - Official Website
Unitopia - Official Website