Saturday, 25th June 2011
The Assembly, Leamington Spa, UK
Thirty Years... it's hard to comprehend that any band these days could last that long and still be on top of their game. But IQ have done it and with style!
The UK celebration of their 30th anniversary was held at the lovely Assembly in Leamington Spa and a large contingent of fans old and young turned out to join the celebrations.
And boy, were they given a treat! In the most adventurous set the band have played in many a year, they plundered the back catalogue revisiting songs from all of their past studio albums,
managing to impart a freshness to each one, remarkable considering a fair few were as old (and in one case older!) than the band.
In what must have been a nervous occasion for all five group members.
The show was performed with aplomb; Tim Esau has matured into an exceptionally fine bassist and his return to the fold seems to have breathed new life into the mainstays of Peter Nicholls (vocals),
Mike Holmes (guitar) and Paul Cook (drums).
New boy Neil Durant (keyboards) has slotted in well to the line-up having absorbed the intricacies of IQ music as if he has been playing them for years
and getting one of the largest introductory cheers of the night.
But to the concert. The opening harked back to the early days with the instrumental Eloko Bella Neechi merging fluidly into favourite from The Wake, Outer Limits.
Throughout Nicholls was on fine form as front man and band spokesperson, displaying the characteristic humour that always makes IQ gigs such fun.
His interactions with the audience and ripostes to the good-natured heckling helped ensure that everyone felt a part of the gig,
making it an all inclusive show and braking down the barriers between band and audience.
A particularly moving The Darkest Hour tugged at a few heart stings with Esau nailing the fretless bass parts in the closing section to perfection, great to hear this one live once more.
Jumping to more recent times stronger Than Friction, Born Brilliant
(and its rather ramshackle but amusing introduction) and Frequency highlighted the quality that persists across all IQ albums
and the usual stunning visuals projected across the three screens at the back of that stage really enhanced the performance.
A large cheer greeted the announcement of The Last Human Gateway, the first true epic written by the band.
The rendition was sublime and seemed to whizz past despite its 24-minute playing time.
The obvious delight of hearing this prog masterpiece performed was evident, even though many must have expected it to make an appearance given its resurrection to recent live sets.
However, no one was expecting what came next - Through The Corridors - which hasn't been performed live for at least 26 years!
The juxtaposition of lengthy full-on progressive rock with shorter, punkier numbers was something that set IQ apart from other bands in the days of the infamous Marquee club in Wardour Street,
and once the initial surprise had been absorbed it was welcomed like a long-lost friend.
With offering so many potential selections for inclusion in this live retrospective, the choice of instrumental State Of Mine was somewhat surprising.
However, it gave Nicholls time for a break and the other four members an opportunity to shine.
Some additional flourishes were incorporated and sounded glorious.
Certainly whets the appetite for the forthcoming entire performance of the Subterranea album during the band's two-night stint at the Boerderij in Zoetermeer, Holland on October 22nd and 23rd.
Anyway who missed witnessing this live show first time round and those who want to relive the excitement again, really should grab the opportunity of attending as who knows when,
if ever, the group will be bold enough to stage the complete spectacle again.
The 'Menel' years were represented by Human Nature, a great song and bold choice given it includes a falsetto vocal section that is not in the register that Nicholls usually sings in
(!) and a lovely pairing of War Heroes and Nothing At All which started off with just Durant and Nicholls occupying the stage before the three remaining members
crept back on to provide the more strident backing to the end of the latter number.
Fine versions of Guiding Light (although personally I would have preferred one of the first three tracks from the Seventh House album) and Closer kept the tempo down
and it seemed like the concert was going to end on a more subdued and reflective note.
However, should have known better as the real conclusion to the show came with the theatrical tour de force The Enemy Smacks!
There was no better way to conclude the show. Even after all these years, the performance has the power to simultaneously shock and impress,
and a rare mistake from Cookie couldn't spoil the sheer power and visual extravaganza that is this most iconic of songs.
Although the set was complete it would be ludicrous to think the band could get away without an encore or two, and when the Holmes, Cook,
Esau and Durant returned to their instruments I am sure that not a single person in the audience was prepared for what came next.
Harking back to the end period of IQ precursor band The Lens and present on the cassette album seven Stories Into Eight,
About Lake Five provided the final surprise of the evening.
Rarely played, even in the early days of the group, it was a welcome reminder of the range of music that the group is proficient in and how, even in their earliest days,
writing and performing quality and complex music was not an obstacle that had to be struggled to overcome.
a smooth segue into Awake and Nervous meant that almost the entire Tales From The Lush Attic debut album had been featured in the set which,
if nothing else goes to prove the enduring quality and appreciation for an album that was recorded in four days on a shoestring budget.
No IQ concert would be complete without a cover version, even if these days there is no time in the set, or in rehearsal, to play complete songs, snippets are incorporated into the encore.
Most recently, with tonight being no exception, the choice was Caroline by Status Quo.
With the screens displaying a sure to be legend IQuo image, the band ripped through the number as if they were some manic tribute band, much to the enjoyment of the audience.
Unfortunately, the momentum was disturbed by the unexpected arrival on stage by two largely, and I use the word advisedly, unknown fans bearing a cake.
Although I'm sure this was done with the best of intentions it was evident that at least some of the band were rather uncomfortable by the enforced break.
To make matters worse the pair hung around on stage during a lively Stomach Of Animal, a pair of superfluous appendages that distracted from the manic and fun closing song.
Personally it was something that marred the evening, a celebration of thirty years of 'prog nonsense' and a chance for the band to thank the people who have supported them over the years,
not an opportunity for egoists with over-inflated senses of their own importance to display their ignorance of etiquette.
And I'm sure the whole thing contributed to the band having to forego performing a final planned encore of The Wake due to running out of time.
Yes, the band are approachable and genuinely nice people, but they are also consummate professionals taking great care in how their shows are presented.
More decorum next time please.
That niggle aside, the show was a magnificent display of why IQ have survived so long. Brilliant musicianship, brilliant compositions and brilliant stagecraft.
The band seemed to have as much fun as the audience and were looking relaxed and assured.
It is no surprise that afterwards even fans who had seen the band many times before were saying that the gig was something special and would easily rate inclusion in the list of top IQ concerts.
To me the most impressive fact was that after the show I encountered a youngish chap who had never heard of the band before but had been dragged along by an older relative.
From his attire he was obviously a fan of bands that, even in the most generous of terms, would not be classed as progressive rock.
However, he was gushing in his praise, boldly claiming it was the best gig he had ever seen.
Fifty-year-old men playing 30-year-old music and winning over the youth of today by the sheer quality and power of their performance?
Can't be bad!
Eloko Bella Neechi
The Darkest Hour
Stronger Than Friction
The Last Human Gateway
Through the Corridors
State of Mine / Human Nature
War Heroes/Nothing at All
The Enemy Smacks
About Lake Five / Awake & Nervous/Caroline
Stomach of Animal
IQ Official Website