Arena, April 13th 1997
Tivoli, Utrecht, The Netherlands

By Ed Sander


First of all, let me give you a bit of an insight in what my opinion about Arena is. I absolutely adore the first album. I like the second one, but I don't think it's as good as Songs From the Lions Cage, but that's just my opinion. Nevertheless Pride contains a lot of good stuff. I preferred the voice of the original singer John Carson, but I'm beginning to get used to Paul Wrightson.

This is the third time I saw Arena live. I saw them before at the Planet Pul festival in Uden last year and with the Pride tour in Amsterdam. Unfortunately I missed most of the acoustic gig they played at a Marillion fan club convention a couple of years ago.

Damian Wilson was originally planned as the support act. Unfortunately it was canceled a couple of days prior to the concert. His place was filled by an unknown band called Blue Rose. Their style was more heavy metal/grunge than prog rock and I can't say I liked them; not really my cup of tea. Nevertheless, a lot of people stayed in the hall and really seemed to enjoy their music. A member of Arena (I thought it was Paul) would later describe them as 'the noisy people' when they introduced themselves to him.

Somewhere between a quarter to 5 and 5 o' clock the William Tell Overture sounded through Tivoli. As far as I'm concerned Arena can use a new intro tape by now. New tour, new intro tape - don't you agree?
As with the two previous concerts I've seen they launched right into Valley of the Kings, followed by Out of the Wilderness. During Valley it became apparent that the band had really grown since last year, in spite of all the changes in personnel. It sounded quite good, whereas I didn't like it that much when they played it in Amsterdam. I cannot get used to the live version of Wilderness though; when performed on stage it becomes clear that the bass/drum duet in the intro is rather dull and not very professional sounding. It just doesn't sound like it does on the album.

Mick Pointer was introduced and he immediately walked up to the front stage with two long rubbery sticks which he used to show the audience at which tempo they should clap their hands. He walked back to the drum kit and the band went into a version of Fools Gold, which was played quite well, except for a few minor mistakes.
A strange keyboard ditty got me a bit confused until the rest of the band started playing what turned out to be Midas Vision. It sounded a bit weird to me without the telephone bit and the abrupt start of the album version. The rest of the performance of the song was great though.

A new song, The Healer, followed. This was quite a catchy tune which I liked very much. I thought it was better than the version which appears on mini-album The Cry, where the same tinny voice effects are used as in Empire of a Thousand Days. I didn't like them then and I don't like them now. Sorry.

A perfect version of Medusa was the next song on the setlist. This is a real live track, played flawlessly. Once again I was struck by the 'Shadowlandish' sound of the track.

While Paul Wrightson stood amidst some nice light effects and the band started playing Sirens a roadie dressed in a monk's habit came on stage and attached some chains to Paul's arms. Nice ! Is this the return of theatrical prog rock ? I wouldn't mind at all. The music of Arena is perfect for that kind of stuff and I hope they will develop further ideas.
When the Floydian solo came new guitarist John Mitchell took the center stage and proved that he is a perfect replacement for Keith Moore. His guitar play was splendid for most of the gig, although it could be noticed that he still needs to get used to the wild audience response. John Jowitt seems to have found himself a new playmate though.

After the great performance of Sirens Mitchell proved his abilities once again when he played an acoustic piece. As far as I know this acoustic song was neither the old Crying for Help I nor the new Isolation piece which appears on The Cry.
Empire of a Thousand Days was the next song. I like the live version a lot better than the rather 'tinny' sounding album version with those awful vocal effects. Also, I've never been that keen on the 'Manowarish' lyrics. The live version sounded great.

The main set was closed with two of my favorite Arena songs. First they played Jericho. With this song the stage always turns into one big party, as well as the front part of the concert hall. Jowitt and Mitchell were dancing around on stage while the band brought a fabulous live version. The other track was the stunning Solomon. The performance of this 15 minute piece brings out the best in the band. Tracks like these are the reason why Arena is as popular as they are. During the energetic middle piece John Jowitt lay on the ground, playing his bass while Mitchell ran in circles around him.

The first encore contained a nice version of Crying for Help IV with a rather heavy instrumentation during the 'Rothery' solo. Welcome to the Cage followed and once again both stage and front audience turned into one big party. Jowitt was wearing a long hat and Paul had put on a silly jacket.

After a marvelous applause the band came back for a second encore. And there it was ... the song everybody had been waiting for .... Theme From Bonanza !! At top speed ! This was quite hilarious and such fun that they played it twice. Jowitt almost went into the 'cha cha cha' version of IQ's Came Down but sad enough he quit after a couple of notes.
Seriously, the real song everybody had been waiting for closed the set; a nearly perfect version of Marillion's 18 minute epic Grendel, a song Mick pointer co-wrote. During previous gigs Arena had played the end part, now they played the full length version. Paul was wearing the monk's habit during the first couple of couplets. It was great to hear a live version of this song and it was extremely well done. I would have liked some more theatrics during the later parts of the song, but then again, you can't win 'em all, can you ?

After more than two hours the concert ended. All in all, it was a very nice afternoon with some great music. If Arena keeps on growing like they are doing at the moment, if the next album is a bit stronger than Pride and if Mick tries more daring drum parts magnificent things can happen ....

After the show I went to the After Party of the Cage for a couple of minutes. I had my Cry CD signed by the band, got to hold Clive's notorious bottle of Jack Daniels for a couple of seconds and finally had the opportunity to give John Jowitt a copy of the IQ FAQ and the Lush Attic pages.

I'm looking forward to the next concept album and tour.

Set list:

William Tell Overture
Valley of the Kings
Out of the Wilderness
Fools Gold
Midas Vision
The Healer
Medusa
Sirens
- acoustic guitar solo -
Empire of a Thousand Days
Jericho
Solomon

Crying for Help IV (Only Child)
Welcome to the Cage

Theme from Bonanza (twice)
Grendel


 

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