IQ & Synaesthesia
Friday, 20th December 2013
De Boerderij, Zoetermeer, the Netherlands
After a nerve-shattering 45-minute bike ride across the fields and round the polders of the Dutch countryside,
taking a route that managed to be both longer and more hilly - hills in Holland, who would've thought?
- than the suggested route on Google Maps, battling through harsh December winds with only Egg's The Polite Force to keep me going, I eventually reached the famous Cultuurpodium Boerderij.
It was to be a special night, IQ's 'legendary' Christmas Bash was to take place once again in this widely respected venue.
The use of the word 'legendary' was entirely on the band's part; one starts to ponder, when a band calls themselves
'IQ' and uses the word 'legendary' to describe their own shows, do they have a superiority complex? Food for thought.
When I reached the venue I was absolutely knackered, so I was rather fortuitous to find an empty space on the balcony area above the main floor,
where I had an eagle-eye view of the stage below as well as a railing to rest on. Of course, I wouldn't be leaving this spot for over three hours,
meaning I had to go beerless for the whole show. The things I do for prog!
Though I knew there was to be a support act, Synaesthesia, I had only done minimal reading up on them before leaving the house.
All I knew at the time is that they had been recently signed to Giant Electric Pea, IQ's label.
I was rather surprised when five teenagers (or so they seemed) walked confidently onto the stage and began playing their instruments.
I was even more surprised to hear that they weren't that bad at all. Opening with an instrumental number that I now know to be called Noumenon,
it was a breath of fresh air to see a young prog band play so well.
Their musical style seemed on the heavy side of neo-prog although with a clear respect for the melodic side of things.
I can picture them now, all crowded together as the rest of the stage was taken up by IQ's equipment.
As the first song came to an end, the band's keyboardist, Adam Warne, said something that made me nearly gasp:
"This is our first gig!" I could hardly believe it, but I was now more aware than ever that this was quite a special gig indeed.
The band ploughed on. I once heard a rumour that the sound production of a support act is generally hampered to make the main act sound even better,
something I would have believed readily in the case of Periphery opening for Dream Theater in 2012.
Indeed, this was also the case that cold Friday night where I could barely hear Adam Warne's singing from the second song onwards.
It wasn't to matter, I got the general idea. Most of the band's songs were short, but had a good sense of structure.
The drummer particularly shone through and kept my attention throughout, holding down complex well-meditated patterns through each song.
In a break between songs, Adam once again made an announcement,
thanking IQ for the opportunity and mentioning that many years ago they were the first band he'd ever seen live, at the age of 12.
"Can't have been that long ago then," I chuckled to myself.
Then it was time for the band's last song, and they boasted that it was going to be a long one.
It may have been helpful if the band had indicated just how long it was going to be. I'd been expecting - perhaps even hoping for
- a track around ten minutes long, but as it was, it felt like this last track, Time, Tension and Intervention, took up half the set.
After a short vocal section, the band broke into a fantastic extended instrumental, which I thought would be the meat of the track,
but was actually just an overture. As the track wore on, it just seemed to lose me, as I had anticipated the track would end much earlier.
I don't think you can get a good feel for a twenty minute suite after just one listen, so I'm going to reserve judgement until I hear the album proper.
On the whole, though, it was a very good first gig and people were applauding by the end.
The band finished at 9 o'clock as I'm sure it was past their bed-time, but the crowd were applauding hard.
When Synaesthesia inevitably make it big in a few years, I'll be glad to know I was there where it all began.
Technology Killed the Kids
Time, Tension & Intervention
Thirty beerless minutes intervened with me hanging over the balcony unable to chat to the rather antisocial bunch that surrounded me.
I was determined not to give up my spot, which gave me a brilliant view of the stage, festively decorated with two white Christmas trees.
Eventually, the band did show up, after a rather disturbing video projection that showed the band members' faces pasted onto the torsos of bodybuilders - again, I worry about their superiority complex.
Initially, it was just the instrumental members - Paul Cook, Neil Durant, Tim Esau and Mike Holmes - who began playing Wurensh,
a song I'm not familiar with. Holmes had some trouble with his guitar: not one sound emanated from the instrument.
A team of engineers came to look at the guitar while the rest of the band played, but still nothing. Peter Nicholls came on and began singing,
and Holmes was still there at a loss of what to do. The matter was eventually resolved,
just in time for one of Mike's solos with a big audience cheer to follow.
The band introduced their set, saying that they were going to play a mixture of old tracks and new tracks, in a set that would span their career.
This I had no problem with; I like material from the band's 80s era as well as stuff from their latest album.
Frequency is perhaps the band's strongest album in years. Nevertheless, the setlist was rife with duff tracks,
stuff I hadn't heard of and frankly didn't interest me. When the band finally did play something I knew,
I was disappointed when they picked the weakest track from Frequency; Nicholls' change of costume hardly made Ryker Skies better.
This was the band's first gig since they played in Germany back in April. The reason for their absence?
The preparation of material for a new upcoming album. Assuming they release their next album this year,
we will see IQ settling into a worrying five-year-gap-between-albums routine. You can't hurry brilliance I suppose.
I digress. Having written new material, IQ were ready to test the new stuff on us.
The two tracks, whose working titles were Without Walls and El Bastardo respectively, seemed just like any other IQ track really.
I'll admit, they sounded weaker than the tracks on Frequency, but as I've said before, it's difficult to assess a song after just one listen.
I've been pretty negative so far, but there were parts of the set I did enjoy, mainly the stuff I actually knew and enjoyed.
The band did play the exceptional title track from Frequency as well as two stellar tracks from The Wake.
I'd never found the studio version of Widow's Peak to be that exciting, but the piece gained new life when played on stage.
I was left electrified!
However, there seemed to be a giant gap in the set. A year ago, I was sincerely impressed with Holmes's remixing effort on the band's debut
album Tales from the Lush Attic, and with 2013 being the 30th anniversary of this brilliant album,
it wouldn't have been unreasonable to expect at least one track to be played. Nothing, de nada, zilch. Sad face.
After Ever's Leap of Faith, the band stated unemphatically that they'd reached the end of their set,
and that they would now perform an encore in the form of one of their long tracks. Having many to choose from, this was quite the guessing game.
Many members of the audience shouted out Harvest of Souls - I personally would have liked to hear The Last Human Gateway in its entirety
- but the band decided to go with the title track from 2000's The Seventh House, a track I was happy to hear,
having become recently acquainted with it. It's true that many of IQ's epics follow a Supper's Ready-like structure -
just look at Harvest of Souls and The Province - and The Seventh House certainly fits in this category.
I enjoy it for what it is, a lighter pastiche of the Genesis classic that works only because its various segments are very brief.
It hops from place to place. Ear candy.
After they'd finished, the band walked off, but I could sense this wasn't the end.
The audience kept cheering for what seemed to be a very long period between the band's walk-off and the eventual walk-on.
When they reappeared, all became clear: Mike Holmes had now changed into an oversized pair of wings, replete with flashing blue lights.
He could barely get on stage! The band then played a medley: a converted Christmas carol that can be heard on the band's early demo tape Seven Stories into Eight,
a cover of Slade's Cum on Feel the Noize (surely Merry Xmas Everybody would have been more appropriate?)
and Human Nature from Nomzamo, with short segments of Black Sabbath's Iron Man holding the piece together.
As exciting as the medley was, I was at this point terribly fatigued, thoughts of my warm bed swimming through my mind.
It was a very long medley, and I was very tired.
So when the band finished their medley, I was just a little bit relieved. It had been a fairly OK night, and I was ready to go home.
But when the band walked off, the lights failed to go up. "Oh dear," I thought, "not more!" Yes, IQ came on for their THIRD encore!
Surely now the band could play Awake and Nervous? Or one of their other classics? It suddenly hit me that IQ didn't really have any classics.
Ask any number of IQ fans what their favourite track is, and you're likely to hear all manner of answers.
There are seemingly no fan favourites when it comes to this band, but clearly IQ thought that the title track of Subterranea
- a horribly overrated and dull concept double album - was one of them. The show should have ended on a bang,
but Subterranea is really not a very remarkable track at all, with a predictable song structure and no interesting hooks.
When the show did end, I was too tired and fed up to do anything other than walk back to my bike for the freezing journey home.
I would have liked to approach the members of Synaesthesia and ask about their new album, and perhaps acquire a copy from the stalls,
but it wasn't to be. Luckily, the wind was on my side on the way home, and the moon was now lighting the way,
so I was able to devote my thoughts to the gig I had just attended.
It certainly wasn't the best concert I'd witnessed, but to be fair to IQ, I was tired and deprived of alcohol,
factors that would make any gig less enjoyable. I also learned things about IQ and myself that night.
Hearing a selection of pseudo-random IQ songs back-to-back made me realise more than ever how IQ generally take
song ideas and piece them together time after time after time. I also realised that their good tracks are simply the ones
that have good segues between song parts. About myself, I discovered that I wasn't really the IQ fan I thought I was,
but rather a person who happens to like some IQ tracks. The disdain that a few of my colleagues have about IQ suddenly made sense to me.
So I actually left the gig less enamoured with the band than when I went in. That's gotta be a first.
This actually means that Synaesthesia were the stars of the show! I feel guilty giving them this title by default,
because they did actually manage to impress myself and most of the audience with their fresh new music.
Though clearly inspired by IQ, they actually managed to show their heroes up this time! For this reason, it was quite a special concert after all.
No Love Lost
Without Walls (Working title)
It All Stops Here
El Bastardo (Working title)
Leap of Faith
The Seventh House
For Christ's Sake ('God Rest You Merry, … more)
Cum On Feel the Noize (Slade cover)
IQ Official Website
Synaesthesia Official Website