Ah, the faithful old Mean Fiddler in London's Charing Cross Road, fast becoming London's home of progressive music, catering as it does for bands both old and new.
It's one of the older bands we are witnessing this evening, one of Italy's best-known progressive bands, Premiata Forneria Marconi. It's incredible to think that the band has not played here live since 1976. For that reason they received an incredibly heartfelt heroes welcome when they took to the stage. As the night went on, they would more than live up to this warm reception.
I have made a concerted effort over the last year to familiarise myself with as much of the bands recorded works as I could in preparation for this concert. Prior to that I had not heard anything by the band since the 70's. I also listened to a couple of the more recent live albums, particularly the last few from 1998 and 2002.
I thought the live albums sounded pretty good - but trust me, you really have to see this bunch live to realise just how incredible they are.
They have lost none of their musical prowess, energy or enthusiasm in the intervening years. You know how you just kind of enjoy some concerts? Well this is one of those concerts that I had a smile on my face all the way through. This was a seriously enjoyable gig.
The majestic River of Life starts the proceedings, a slightly low-key opener perhaps, but a great piece of music nonetheless. The epic Photo's Of Ghosts is up next, featuring some absolutely stunning violin work from Lucio Fabbri, and it's at this point that the band really start to hit their stride. For the next couple of tracks, drummer Franz Di Cioccio takes centre stage for lead vocals on the swaggering rocker Maestro Della Voce, (augmented by some enthusiastic singing from the crowd), and the jazz-tinged Le Carrozza Di Hans.
Franz is quite an entertaining character - one of those drummers that never likes to be away from his drum kit for too long, (Percussionist Roberto looks after drumming duties when Franz takes centre stage) and keeps a pair of sticks in his hands just so he can run over and bash the hell out of the cymbals occasionally in between verses. The sprawling, epic Promenade followed, featuring a quite demented but entertaining performance from Franz. Imagine Roberto Benigni on acid, and you get the idea.
To my great delight, we were then treated to the toe tapping tour-de-force that is La Luna Nuova, with its intricate violin and keyboard interplay and wonderfully fluid guitar melodies from Franco Mussida. One of my all time fave PFM tracks, bar none.
At this point the concert took a bit of a departure, as special guest Peter Hammill took the stage. Looking (and in fact sounding) an awful lot like an older David Bowie. Indeed the first song played was very similar to Heroes, with it's constant "I will seek, I will search, I will find you" refrain. Close your eyes, and you could have been at any of Bowie's gigs circa 1980's.
A particular highlight for me was the delicate Dolcissima Maria, possibly my all time favourite PFM song. Judging by the cheers of the crowd practically drowning out bassist Patrick Djivas flute section, I suspect the crowd were in agreement with me on this one. The live version of this song is quite different from the recorded, finishing as it does with some lovely improvisational piano from Flavio Premoli. I would normally hesitate to use the word beautiful to describe a song, especially being a (supposedly) tough, hard English Northerner and all that, but yes, that's exactly what it was. There. I said it. There goes my reputation…
The rocking, extended version of Si Puo Fare contained possibly one of the best band introduction sections I have ever heard, with everyone in the band getting a chance to shine. Franz delighted in indulging in some entertaining call and response antics with the audience, including a quick snatch of Queen's We Will Rock You, and a thigh-slapping country jig thrown into the mix for good measure.
In keeping with the entertainingly diverse repertoire of the band, we were also treated to their wonderful, rollicking, version of the William Tell Overture.
Impression De Septembre had the whole crowd singing along from the beginning, and featured some delicate, soaring vocals from Franz, and those wonderful, fluid synth lines from Flavio.
And for the closing track - well what else but Celebration? A manic, energetic reading of the song which had the audience literally jumping for joy. Unfortunately this was all we got, but believe me - we all wanted more. But what's that old showbiz cliché about always leaving your audience wanting more? (And god knows there are enough clichés in this review already!).
This was quite a revelation for me. I was looking forward to this concert for some time, and thought it would be good, but damn - I didn't think it would be THIS good!
Don't leave it so long next time, ok guys?