Issue 2008-036: DVD Special
Reviews in this issue:
- Genesis - When In Room 2007
- Pallas - Moment To Moment
- Spock's Beard - Live (Duo Review)
- The Oliver Wakeman Band - Coming To Town ~ Live In Katowice
- Sylvan - Posthumous Silence : The Show
- Porcupine Tree - Lightbulb Sun
- Soft Machine – Alive In Paris 1970
- Acid Mothers Gong – Live At UNcon 2006
- Daevid Allen’s University Of Errors – Play The Soft Machine
- SBB - Four Decades
Genesis - When In Rome 2007
Disc 1 [103:20] Dukes Intro (5:39), Turn It On Again (4:35), "Hello, Good Evening and Welcome" (1:43), No Son Of Mine (6:57), Land Of Confusion (5:04), "Any Old Fans Here Tonight?" (0:35), Cage Medley [In The Cage, Cinema Show, Dukes Travels, Afterglow] (17:59), Hold On My Heart (5:58), "A Scary Story (1:24), Home By The Sea (12:04), Follow You Follow Me (4:18), Firth Of Fifth [excerpt] (4:29), I Know What I Like (8:30)
Concert Extras: How Does Duke's End End? (3:23), We're Gonna Take It Up A Little Bit (2:45), Plugged In. Turned On. On The Edge (1:33), Minimal Confusion (2:19), Tony Changed His Mind (2:30), We Need More Lights (2:26), Counting The Bars To 'Heart' (4:34), Working On Home (1.49), Mike Wants Phil's 'Feel' On Drums (5:15), From 'G' To 'G' On 'Firth (3:38), Time To Dance (3:46) Other Extras: Tour Programme (Gallery 19 Pictures)
Disc 2 [118:40] Mama (6:49, "Let Us Take You Away From All That" (0:21), Ripples (7:55), Throwing It All Away (6:04), "The Domino Principle In Action" (2:41), Domino (11.44), Conversations With 2 Stools (6:33), Los Endos (6:21), Tonight Tonight Tonight / Invisible Touch (9:41), "Thank You, Goodnight" (1:55), I Can't Dance (6:20), Carpet Crawlers (4:42)
Concert Extras: Bring The Pitch Down Like Elton (7:34), 'Acoustic' Ripples (4:46), 'Throwing It All' Down (2:09), Tony Talks About His Inspiration (2:12), The Drum Duet (8:58), Not A Period Piece (3:21), Invisible Key (2:37), Phil, Tony & Mike, And Phil & Mike? (2:39), Singing Along (4:23) Other Extras: Photo Gallery (21 Pictures), Deleted Scenes (Did You Do Your Homework?) (2:12)
Disc 3 [110:18] Documentary: Come Rain Or Shine
This DVD captures Genesis at the end of their European Turn it on Again tour playing a free concert of an absurd 500.000 people in Circo Massimo in Rome, Italy on the 14th July 2007. An enormous crowd that seems to expand to the far horizon. The DVD set comes with three discs, two of which contain the concert and extras and one with a two hour documentary. If you look in the right places on the Internet you can get this 4.5 hour package for a very reasonable price (I got mine for less than 20 Euro).
Both concert DVDs come with a set of extras that are related to each individual song. These extras, which are several minutes long each, can be accessed by pressing Enter when the Duke logo appears in the top left corner of the screen and normally show the band during rehearsals fiddling around with the concerned tune. Fortunately these extras are also accessible from the main menu, otherwise it would have been rather tedious to watch them in one run. Not all these extras are similarly interesting, some are and some aren't. About half of them deal with the band trying to figure out in what key they should play the songs for Phil Collins to be able to sing them.
There has been much debate about the setlist of this tour (or as Collins calls it 'a selection of gigs' since he doesn't tour anymore). I agree with those that think it was a well balanced mixture of the 'old Genesis' and 'new Genesis'. Sure, I would have preferred some more 'old Genesis' but I think the setlist had something for everybody in the audience.
The concert starts of with the splendid energetic opener Duke Intro (actually a combination of the first part of Behind The Lines and Duke's End). As in the past zillion years Tony, Mike and Phil are joined on stage by Chester Thompson and Daryl Struermer. There's a second drum kit where Mr. Collins sits down to drum along in the longer instrumental passages. The artists' stage itself is relatively small but there's a big led projection screen behind it, curved arches with light and a whole top part with lighting towers and screens, acting as some kind of colourful crown. Come to think of it, it looks a bit like a flattened version of Pink Floyd's stage for the Division Bell tour. The projection screen shows coloured lights, close ups of band members (as do the oval screens on the sides) and many animations. Sometimes these are nice, sometimes spectacular. The brightness compared to beamed projections is always splendid. It's a matter of taste if you like everything you'll see. For instance, I personally find the running man for In The Cage out of context, lacking variation and distracting since he's not 'running in time' to the music.
Musically an absolute highlight on the first DVD is the instrumental section from the Cinema Show, a piece of music that has stood the test of time, as well as the climax of Duke's Travels moving into one of my favourite Genesis tunes Afterglow. During this song the smoke and blue/purple lights create an almost spooky flashback to the old days when the song already used to close the Cage Medley. The band definitely doesn't shun from paying homage to the past and the fun usage of characters from album covers in projections for Follow You Follow Me and old band pictures in I Know What I Like make this perfectly clear. The end section of the Old Medley with the marvellous Firth Of Fifth (featuring a huge projection of Struermer playing the solo) and I Know What I Like are other highlights that round off DVD one. Hearing the huge crowd sing along to the excerpt of Stagnation here is just the icing on the cake!
The second DVD has more great stuff in store. After a fine Mama follows the biggest surprise of the evening: Ripples. Because of its production sound the Trick album has never been one of my favourites but this live version is marvellous and the projection images of the magic forest add the right mood. The extras for this track include part of an acoustic version. After Throwing It All Away with the same call-response bit as during the previous tours (and the audience nicely projected all over the huge screen) follows one of the show's highlights: Domino. The projections (of a city, the vortex with Phil's face projected in the middle and falling dominos) combined with marvellous lightning on the edge of the screen and the crown of lights high above it create an absolute visual stunner. This tour's Drum Duet starts on two bar stools before moving to the kits and seamlessly flowing into the splendid Los Endos, which is as energetic as always. The extras contain a rehearsal by Phil and Chester on one stool in a hotel room which is a nice addition and showcases their perfect sense of rhythm and timing.
The next three songs show how close the band has stayed to the set-up of the We Can't Dance tour, with the combined Tonight Tonight Tonight, Invisible Touch and I Can't Dance being almost identical in arrangements and choreography (for the latter). Fortunately there's enough for the eyes to feast on with projected buildings at night during Tonight, sparkles and psychedelic colour during Touch and the familiar images of band members walking in line during Dance. What's more, Invisible Touch also feature nice climatic fireworks (fortunately the band decided that the flamethrowers were not their kind of thing, saving them a Roger Waters-like embarrassment). The closing song, Carpet Crawlers is another wonderful surprise and a perfect to say goodbye to the audience in an intimate way.
The registration of the concert itself is done very well with lots of shots of the full stage show and the enormous crowd alternating with the close ups of the band. This is a good thing since the huge projection screen, which is build of of smaller elements, looks best from far away. When the camera zooms in the 'pixels' become too obvious and the animations lose their strength.
Collins talks a lot to the crowd in Italian using cheat-sheets, but fortunately the DVD is equipped with various subtitles for the non-Italian people among us. The surround mix is great and really gives the impression of being right there in the audience. During the Domino principle for example, the 3D effects are used to full effect. Unlike the double CD of the tour, the audience is very much present in the mix, especially in the rear speakers.
The Deleted Scenes are just two snippets about Tony Banks not having done his homework for the tour book. The Photo Gallery is a nice one for a change since among the 21 pictures are some beautiful shots of the light show. The Tour Book extra is a rather forgettable bonus since you can't zoom in and read a damn thing.
The mentioned documentary disc is almost 2 hours long and one of the best tour documentaries I've seen in a long time. It captures the band preparing from the first band meeting and combines 'behind the scene' footage with frank and open interviews. The documentary starts with the first setlist discussions in October 2007 where we notice how the full length Cinema Show gets dropped. Other songs that were dropped were Jesus He Knows Me, That's All, Abacab and In Too Deep. There's quite some footage of the production meetings, including discussions on arena's versus stadiums and Mark Fisher's ideas for the stage show. Some of the stuff is just hilarious, like the constant search for the right bar stool for the drum solo and the recurring discussions about the animation for In The Cage. Other material is downright worrying, like the realisation a couple of days before the start of the tour that there's nobody to cue the animations and somebody gets hired and has to figure out the full projection programming in a few days. The documentary also (again) reveal Banks and Rutherford as the real driving force behind Genesis and its sound. There's material from the press conferences, some old footage with Gabriel and coverage of the horrible weather conditions at Bern, Hamburg and Katowice. One of the highlights is seeing the obviously moved fans sing along to Carpet Crawlers. All in all a wonderful two hours !
Something that does come across quite clearly after watching the live DVDs and especially the documentary DVD is the sometimes half hearted enthusiasm of Phil Collins. During the preparations for the show it's hard to tell if he really enjoys doing this 'reunion', unlike Banks and Rutherford who are clearly the initiators of the initiative. In the documentary Collins can be seen bad tempered when he realizes his drum skills aren't what they used to be and he clearly admits that this is much more Tony and Paul's thing than his. Loitering in a training suit during press conferences doesn't really give the impression of a lot of dedication dedication either.
On the live DVD you clearly notice how the humour and enthusiasm that Collins displayed on other live registrations like Live At Wembley or The Way We Walk is present here like a carbon copy of the old days. Everything seems a bit forced and the way that all of the old 'gimmicks' like the tambourine act, the explanation of the Domino Principle and the ghost sounds for Home By The Sea indicate a bit of a lack of drive to developing something new and fresh. Collins' announcement to fully retire this year therefore doesn't come as a big surprise.
Regardless of this minor gripe, this DVD is a highly recommended purchase. Great footage and sound, loads of extras and reasonably priced. The last chance to see this band perform a collection of old and 'middle-aged' tunes !
Conclusion: 9 out of 10
Pallas - Moment To Moment
Tracklist: Warriors (7:32), Hide And Seek (5:12), Ghostdancers (6:35), Cut and Run (5:17), Heart Attack (9:28), Queen Of The Deep (12:31), Northern Star (4:13), The Last Angel (5:06), Invincible (10:48), Midas Touch (7:50), Fragments Of The Sun (7:55), Arrive Alive (7.43)
Extras: Interview (22:52), Tales From The Tourbus (8:13), The Rehearsal Tapes (11:13), Biography, Discography, Gallery (1:30)
Another release from the Metal Mind stable. It should be common knowledge for everyone by now: recorded at the Slaski Theatre in Katowice Poland, by an extensive camera crew, offering high quality images and dito sound. Formulaic? Well, yes, but as long as Metal Mind keeps releasing DVDs of bands that don't have that much video material out, there isn't much to complain about!
For Pallas it was their first ever gig in Poland, and what a gig it was! When I saw this band live for the first time, about five years ago, they completely blew me away with their energetic and tight performance, and this DVD is an excellent document of what a Pallas gig is like.
When Pallas makes a DVD they do put a lot of effort in it. The previous DVD, The Blinding Darkness, contained quite a few interesting and funny extras, and this new DVD is no different. But apart from the extras the band also put visible effort in their show and setlist. Only Cut And Run and Midas Touch are included on both. The setlist obviously focuses on their latest studio outing The Dreams Of Men, with four tracks, but the rest of the setlist comes from their entire back catalogue, including Arrive Alive and Queen Of The Deep from their live debut from 1981. But the differences are not limited to just the setlist. Also visually this is a completely different show. Where The Blinding Darkness was rather, uhm, dark, it is remarkable to see just how bright and colourful the images on this DVD are.
Strangely enough the only minor gripe I have with this DVD is the rawness of the performance. Generally I am not a fan of overdubs, I like my live recordings to be as much 'the real thing' as possible. However, an overdub to mask an obvious error which could otherwise destroy the performance entirely is not necessarily a bad thing either. Roine Stolt's re-recoding his vocals on the Transatlantic DVD because he had forgotten the lyrics on the night of the recording are a good example. For this DVD I wish Pallas would have done a similar thing with Graeme Murray's vocals. I really like his live singing, but often when he is playing bass and pedals and is singing at the same time he forgets to sing in the general direction of the microphone, thus half the words he sings cannot be heard. This is somewhat distracting from the viewing experience.
The DVD boasts some nice extras. There is a lengthy interview with Alan Reed and Graeme Murray, chronicling the Pallas history. Tales From The Tourbus is a tongue in cheek behind the scenes documentary, shot by Alan Reed. It shows the band both on and offstage during the short Dreams of Men tour. The third bonus video is shot during rehearsals in the band's studio.
The sound options are Dolby Digital 5.1 surround and Dolby Digital 2.0 stereo. Both mixes are pretty good, offering a good balance and clarity of all instruments. Image clarity, as with all Metal Mind releases is excellent. Although occasionally it is evident that the film crew was not familiar with the band's music (zooming in on Graeme Murray's bass, when Niall Matthewson plays a guitar solo, for example) this is very annoying.
All in all this is a very welcome addition to the Pallas catalogue and an excellent companion piece to the previous DVD. It shows the band in top form, playing an excellent setlist. So while the Metal Mind releases may be formulaic, the band's performance is far from that. And besides, a high quality production is part of that Metal Mind formula, so no complaints there either!
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Spock's Beard - Live
Tracklist: Intro, On A Perfect Day, In The Mouth Of Madness, Crack The Big Sky, The Slow Crash Landing Man, Return To Whatever, Surfing Down The Avalanche, Thoughts (Part 2), Drum Duel, Skeletons At The Feast, Walking On The Wind, Hereafter (Ryo Solo), As Far As The Mind Can See: Part One (Dreaming In The Age Of Answers), Part Two (Here’s A Man), Part Three (They Know We Know), Part Four (Stream Of Unconsciousness), Rearranged, Medley: The Water, Medley: Go The Way You Go
Extras: Special Photo Gallery: A Brief History of SB in Music & Pictures
Jez Rowden's Review
If there’s one thing Spock’s Beard are partial to it would be a live release and this one arrives only a couple of years after the Glutton’s For Punishment set. Live (also available as a double CD) is the second concert DVD from the Californian band after 2002’s Don’t Try This At Home, which was filmed at the 013 in Tilburg. This concert was also recorded in The Netherlands, this time at the Boerderii in Zoetermeer on 25th May 2007 and features the entire 19-track show. The track listing here is very different to either of the previously mentioned sets with, as expected, a high song count from the post-Neal Morse albums. The latest self-titled release (reviewed here) is heavily featured with only one song from Octane and none from Feel Euphoria (the only other album completely ignored is Snow). Elsewhere, the set list covers a lot of ground with the pre-Morse material and works at bringing both eras together in one package. This spread of material both shows where the Beard are today and what an illustrious history they have and how this history has been integrated into the current outfit with no one needing to enquire after the whereabouts of Mr Morse. The older tracks are well placed within the set and the new numbers hold up well in their company. As regular listeners know they have always had a liking for a good pop hook within their Gentle Giant influenced complexity and this has become more the case in recent years, but there is still space for songs like the multi part As Far As The Mind Can See which is the focal point of the second part of the set.
This is a very enjoyable watch and the band look like they’re having a great time. As the DVD starts and prior to the menu you get Ryo Okumoto leading band and crew in bonding pre-gig chants culminating with a vigorous “BANZAI!!”. Throughout the show Ryo, in trademark bandana, can’t resist mugging cheekily to both camera and crowd and finds time to stand on one bank of his keys while playing the other. A roadie is on hand to ensure he doesn’t break anything – most probably his neck! Tour drummer Jimmy Keegan also indulges a passion for crowd surfing on a couple of occasions – very successfully too with a suitably “supportive” crowd. His attempts to get Nick D’Virgilio out there as well are slightly less successful!
The rest of the band are less keen on the liveliness but have masses of charisma and are clearly having a good laugh. This is not a studious muso-band and other than Dave Meros remaining the image of calm and cool while pulling off some brilliant bass runs at the rear of centre stage and Al Morse occasionally peering over his glasses in a scholarly way while soloing they bounce through an energetic set with aplomb.
The stage is swamped with equipment: - two drum kits; Ryo’s two banks of keys; additional keys for Nick and Dave; Al’s pedals and acoustic guitar on a stand; Dave’s bass pedals. Somewhere amongst all this kit lurk cameramen – but where? They remain well hidden throughout despite the many long shots and close ups– where do these people hide while filming? Hand held cameras add to the “live” feel and the director does a good job tying everything together and keeping it interesting. The camerawork throughout is excellent and unobtrusive and a very good light show adds to the effect. Given the cramped stage conditions and the size of the enthusiastic crowd in what looks like a pretty small venue, my guess is that it was a very hot and sweaty evening.
The main body of the set is book ended by the opening and closing tracks from the last album and this adds to the consistency with highlights from SB interspersed with other, older tracks. For me SB is up there with the best work of the band. Yes, there is a bit of filler and the epic As Far As The Mind Can See does not quite work completely but the chosen selections here work well in a live setting.
After excellent opener On A Perfect Day we get two older pearls with In The Mouth Of Madness and Crack The Big Sky. Nick starts with guitar (including a nice acoustic/electric duet with Al), adds a bit of keyboard and starts Crack The Big Sky on drums before returning to his mic. D’Virgilio is developing all the time as a front man and is confident in the role. His vocals are slightly higher than Neal Morse so some of the older tracks sound a bit different, but the band has recaptured their essence in this new setting. Next up is the stately The Slow Crash Landing Man with a great solo from Al at the end, his finger playing style well in evidence. This is followed by jazzy instrumental Return To Whatever, which sees the four full-time band members proving themselves to be a formidable musical unit who know each other well. Surfing Down The Avalanche thumps along nicely with complimentary head banging before the familiar Gentle Giant harmonies of Thoughts (Part 2). Vocal performances throughout are excellent and if this is how the harmonies are executed live then they are to be congratulated. It is unclear if this is a “warts-and-all” performance or whether overdubs have been added – hopefully the former.
The Drum Duet suggests a Genesis vibe (as does the “drummer becomes singer” scenario) but that is where the similarities end. The duet itself is entertaining with Nick and the excellent Keegan swapping parts before locking in together for the finale. The other solo spot is left for Ryo and an emotional piano rendition of ballad Hereafter; not your typical prog keyboard solo and a nice change of mood from the rest of the set. Between these two we get a mix of new and old with sinister instrumental Skeletons At The Feast followed by Walking On The Wind. Two very different tracks that show off how multi-faceted this band is.
The main set ends with the full version of As Far As The Mind Can See. Split screen is briefly employed during a guitar duet in the first part and Dave adds some jazzy melodic bass. Part two extends the jazz vibe in a more up-tempo vein which edges into Flower Kings territory. A bit of Genesis for part three before the rousing finale, which features some lovely keys and backing tracks for the orchestral sections. Lastly we get Rearranged, starting out slowly before building to a fitting climax with that great keyboard part.
Having thoroughly enjoyed the gig itself the encore, for me, is a bit of a let down. On paper it looks great – a medley of two tracks from The Light; The Water and Go The Way You Go. The Water is probably the proggiest part of the show but for some reason it doesn’t quite work – maybe after almost two hours of variety with plenty of up-tempo rocking, this just seems a little staid and lacking in dynamics. At least you get to see Ryo adding some scat vocals! Not bad, but could be better as is this version of Go The Way You Go which just isn’t quite anthemic enough. No problem though, still a great show.
The current material is much more straightforward and sleeker than of old but there is always the possibility of a twiddly flourish or unexpected side turn that will keep dyed in the wool prog fans happy. This band knows how to put on a show and play with mastery most can only dream of.
DVD extras are thin on the ground comprising only a neat photo gallery option which is better than most in that it links tracks chronologically from all of the Spock’s albums accompanied by key excerpts from those albums. This is much better than the usual throwaway gallery option but it is mainly the lack of other extras that loses half a point from the rating I would otherwise award.
Sound and visual quality is excellent, audio options offering Stereo and Dolby 5.1 Surround. This is a great and enjoyable release from a band that is developing into their second phase nicely. On this evidence they are one of the most entertaining of the newer prog acts. I believe they still have their masterpiece within them and with writing responsibilities appearing more democratic in the group than they used to be hopefully that work might yet arrive. In the meantime enjoy this great slice of accessible prog from an excellent band that you can see in the flesh on their current European Tour. Recommended.
Ed Sander's Review
To be perfectly honest, I think it is a shame that The Beard filmed this tour instead of the previous one that was released as the live CD Gluttons For Punishment. The setlist of that tour was so much more interesting with a lot of my favourites and no single bad track and with the Flash Before My Eyes cycle which in my opinion is much stronger than As Far As The Mind Can See. The setlist for this tour does of course include interesting material, among which some oldies that haven't been played live for a while. Still, I can't get overtly excited about the gig. The excitement of hearing The Water is spoiled when it moves into Go The Way You Go after six minutes already. The latter is an encore I've heard often enough and I would much rather have heard a full The Water (minus the last part perhaps). The last album Spock's Beard wasn't the best album the band has made and the choice of songs for the setlist does not always include the best tracks of the CD. I could have done without the dragging Slow Crash Landing Man, the fusion Al Morse solo track Return To Whatever and Ryo's Hereafter solo. I would gladly have traded them for some tracks from Feel Euphoria (like Onomatopoeia or The Bottom Line) or Octane (She Is Everything would be a better choice for a ballad).
Those who have seen Spock's Beard perform on big stages like the 013 in Tilburg know how dynamic the band can be. On the smaller stage of De Boerderij, where the DVD was filmed, this hardly comes across. With two drum kits and two additional keyboards for Nick and Dave there's very little space to move around. Sure, Ryo does climb his keyboard rig and mad drummer Jimmy (a wonderful addition to the band's live line-up) and Nick go crowd-surfing, but most of the time the band is much more static than they would be on a bigger stage.
Another result of the cramped space is that there's not much room for camera's on stage. As a result, a lot of the footage of Al and Nick is filmed from low perspective, which gets a bit boring after a while. Other camera footage is probably filmed from the balcony of De Boerderij or higher placed stationary camera's, so whenever you look at Al, Dave or Nick, it's mostly either from high or low. Jimmy Keegan is a joy to watch, but the camera that films him sometimes zooms in unnecessarily. During Return To Whatever Al Morse walks up to Ryo for a bit of a keyboard-guitar duel, but the space is simply too cramped to get a good shot of the two. Add to this a light show that's not all that imaginative (using blue for most of the gig, with the occasional red and green) and you've got a concert film that's far from optimal. Or maybe it's just the sheer contrast with the Sylvan DVD I reviewed directly before this one that made me slightly disappointed ...
Getting to the main menu of the DVD you have to go through another pre-gig backstage Banzai group yell, like on the band's previous DVD. The opening of the show is a bit of an anti-climax as well, with the band walking on stage to the sound of an energetic percussive piece. But instead of moving directly into the first track, the band has to fiddle around a bit in full stage light. Fortunately, On A Perfect Day that follows is one of the highlights of the show, like it was on the latest album. Oldies In The Mouth Of Madness and Crack The Big Sky are fun and performed well, but the energetic mood is broken by The Slow Crash Burning Man, although Al Morse plays a great solo at the end. Seemingly he stayed well away from the coffee shops this time. Return to Whatever is (for me) the longest 7 minutes of the DVD. Repetitive jazz-fusion is simply not my thing. Surfing Down The Avalanche, which works fine isolated from the rest of the Flash suite, is therefore a big relief. A really grungy rocker, this has Nick acting out his angriest theatrics and Ryo standing on one keyboard while playing the other. Thoughts Part 2 is another highlight. It's amazing how well this is recreated live and the 'maybe not/what's the point' breaks where the band let's the audience answer (while Jimmy Keegan is making funny faces at the camera) adds the necessary live flavour and interaction with the crowd.
The Drum Duet between Nick and Jimmy is nice, but nowhere as nice as the Collins-Thompson ones which must have inspired them. Rather than focussing on a mutual rhythmic adventure as the Genesis blokes do, this is much more an individual exchange of lots of rolls, fills and crashes, as many per second as possible. Next up is a fine performance of Skeletons At The Feast, which even finds Jimmy Keegan crowd-surfing all the way to the mixing desk. I enjoy Walking On The Wind more every time I hear it, not the least because of the fine bass lines. The As Far As The Mind Can See suite is nicely performed but at times still feels like a forcefully connected series of underdeveloped snippets. Fortunately the children's choir is partially drowned out by the enthusiastic audience of De Boerderij during They Know We Know. The suite loses a bit of its live feel during Stream of Unconsciousness, where the brass section is clearly on tape. As during the previous tour, the band end the main set with a straightforward, but tasteful toe-tapping rocker, this time Rearranged. As mentioned, the short version of The Water and the overplayed Go The Way You Go are a bit of a downer as an encore.
It has to be said that both the performance and mix of the music are top notch. Sure, there's the occasional bum note and at times Al Morse the showman takes over from Al Morse the guitarist, which does not do the quality of his playing any good, but overall, like Gluttons For Punishment the musicianship excels any live recording of the band during the 'Neal Morse-era'. Those who have seen the band live know how Nick has developed into an enthusiastic front man and he's more than able to act as the 'Collins' of this band, playing guitar and additional keys to boot. The 5.1 mix has some interesting dimensional tricks that increasing the enjoyment of this DVD.
The extras on this DVD are extremely meagre. No tour documentary, no behind the scenes footage, no interviews ... Just a photo gallery. I have to admit though that this gallery is more interesting than your normal gallery because it gives a chronological overview of the Beard's history in a 13 minutes slideshow with pictures (sometimes very funny) and musical fragments. Still, not something you'll be watching over and over again. A bit of a sloppy error is the separate track index of The Water and Go The Way You Go on the DVD cover while they are indexed together on the DVD. What's more, while the Intro is a separate track the DVD info text misses it, thereby incorrectly shifting all tracks one index down. And what happened to the encore of Whole Lotta Love that was seemingly sang by Jimmy Keegan at this gig?
So, all in all a musically fine performance of a so-and-so setlist performed on a stage that does not enable the band to show their full entertainment potential. And none of this is compensated by decent bonus material. But even under those circumstances a Spock's Beard DVD is still quite enjoyable, just not quite enough to earn the DPRP Recommendation. Not essential, unless you live in a part of the world where you haven't got the chance to see the band at their fullest.
The Oliver Wakeman Band – Coming To Town ~ Live In Katowice
Tracklist: Don't Come Running, Dangerous World, The Agent, Calling For You, Three Broken Threads, Burgundy Rose, Mother's Ruin, Enlightenment, If You're Leaving, I Don't Believe In Angels, Wall Of Water, Walk Away, Coming To Town (74:56)
Bonus Features: Interview with Oliver Wakeman (25:49), Biography, Discography, Photo Gallery, Desktop Images, Weblinks
Oliver Wakeman must consider himself to be a very unlucky man at the moment. He should have been halfway through a prestigious tour of the USA replacing his father as the latest in a long line of keys men with Yes. Following concerns over Jon Anderson’s health the tour was of course cancelled which is particularly unfortunate as this is the first time in the bands forty year history I can recall that happening. One of several spin offs from the tour would have surely been the inevitable DVD. By way of compensation Oliver’s own live DVD has recently hit the shelves. Billed as The Oliver Wakeman Band he is joined by a quartet of musicians some of whom appeared on his most recent Mother's Ruin album from 2005. In my review of the album I noted that the band had already acquired a new bassist and vocalist and as such it would be interesting to see how the songs faired live. The line-up consists of Paul Manzi (vocals and acoustic guitar) David Mark Pearce (electric guitar), Paul Brown (bass) and Dave Wagstaffe (drums and percussion). Almost every track from the last album is included in the set along with a selection of tunes from previous releases including The Hound Of The Baskervilles and Jabberwocky projects co-produced by Wakeman and Clive Nolan.
The recording was made at the Wyspianski Theatre in Katowice, Poland which judging by recent releases has replaced Tilburg in the Netherlands as the location favoured by acts and their labels for such events. The band ventured to Poland from the UK specifically to record the concert which took place on 31st October 2007. If both the date and venue sound familiar it’s because they shared the bill with Caamora and Pallas whose DVD’s were also recorded that same evening. For those of you that hanker for a separate audio experience you’ll be pleased to know that it’s also available as a double DVD and CD package. I can’t comment on the CD but both the audio and picture quality on the DVD are startlingly good in their clarity. The camerawork and editing is professionally executed with a varied combination of full stage images and ample close-ups although as is often the case the lens favours the three leads more than it does the drummer and bassist. There is a particularly impressive shot which is thankfully not overused where in one continuous pan the camera swoops from the rear of the auditorium down to the front of the stage. The lighting is imaginative although with an over emphasis on greens and blues. The band appears almost uniform like dressed in mostly black with only Pearce’s purple guitar catching the eye. Oliver’s youthful good looks on the other hand are more than capable of turning a few heads.
Concentrating on material from Mother's Ruin, the first part of the set is made up of hard rock numbers laced with the occasional ballad like Dangerous World. The end result is more Deep Purple and Uriah Heep in tone than say Yes. That’s despite Oliver’s keyboard interjections being very similar to Wakeman seniors, especially his rippling piano technique and synth noodlings. Unlike his dad’s solo ventures however Oliver plays more of a sideman role allowing the heavy metal vocal and guitar histrionics of Manzi and Pearce a degree of freedom. Oliver also favours a bright and digitally clean sound, there’s no gritty Rhodes, fuzzed Hammond or lush Mellotron excursions here. In fact his modest rig looks positively skeletal compared with the legendary stacks pioneered by Rick. The proggier tracks are mostly bundled together in the middle of the set starting with the lively instrumental Three Broken Threads from The Hound of the Baskervilles. Here Wakeman’s lighting fast synth agility would make his old man proud. Having made himself scarce for the instrumental, Manzi returns to the stage and acoustic guitar in hand gives a soulful rendition of the reflective Burgundy Rose. Minus points here for the camerawork which fails to acknowledge Brown’s fretless bass solo other than glimpses over Wakeman’s shoulder. The title track from Mother's Ruin is next up which eschews some of the frills of the album version in favour of an acoustic bias.
By this juncture the band really has the audience on their side and they are all clearly moved by the ecstatic response. The last part of the show is book ended by two pieces from Jabberwocky, Enlightenment and Coming To Town. The former skilfully juxtaposes quieter moments with strident guitar driven parts. The highlight of the song (and possibly the show) is a soaring solo from Pearce followed by an infectious chorus where Clive Nolan’s influence is clearly present. If You're Leaving is an unashamed tearjerker of a ballad but this version doesn’t quite do it for me with Manzi’s otherwise fine vocals sounding curiously strangulated here. I Don't Believe In Angels and Wall Of Water raise the heat once more with impressive guitar and keys interplay and finds Manzi in more comfortable Ian Gillan inspired territory. Walk Away is one of the catchier songs on the last album and is no less compelling live with Manzi going all out to whip up the audience’s participation in the sing-along chorus. Following a brief exit from the stage and enthusiastic encouragement from the fans, they return for the encore Coming To Town. Not in my view the most inspired of closers but it does allow each musician a stage credit and the opportunity to shine with a short solo. Wakeman makes smart use of the pitch wheel to liven up his synth contribution.
As with the Pär Lindh Project DVD I covered just a few weeks back Metal Mind have done another superb job with this package. It comes with a short but informative booklet which contains extensive production notes but no pics from the show other than the cover montage. These are included on the DVD however along with a neat array of other extras crowned by an interview with Oliver. In addition to the close resemblance, his easy going anecdotal recollections sound incredibly like his dad. He reveals (unsurprisingly) his early penchant for Deep Purple and Styx, his introduction to Clive Nolan through Mick Pointer and his working relationship with Steve Howe. Talking at length about the recording process he discloses that (unlike many artists) he actually enjoys listening to his own albums. Moving onto the biography section, in addition to the band it thoughtfully includes a page dedicated to each individual member. So there you have it. Although extremely well performed, not for me a set with the strongest of material but certainly one of the best looking and sounding DVD’s in the recent spate of releases.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Sylvan - Posthumous Silence : The Show
Tracklist: Eternity Ends, Bequest Of Tears, In Chains, Bitter Symphony, Pane Of Truth, No Earthly Reason, Forgotten Virtue, The Colors Changed, A Sad Sympathy, Questions, Answer To Life, Message From The Past, The Last Embrace, A Kind Of Eden, Posthumous Silence
DVD Features: Stereo and Dolby Digital 5.1 Mix, Audio commentary by the band, Subtitles in English and German (German subtitles = complete translation of all lyrics), "In the Studio 2005-2006" (The recording of "Posthumous Silence" and "Presets") (21:48), "34 Days" [Behind the scenes footage of the production] (16:25), Interviews with Sylvan and their main technicians (approx 36 min), Slide show (5:52), Timelapse (1:42), Bonus song: Artificial Paradise (19:48)
As the title explains, this DVD captures Sylvan playing a one-off full (high budget) performance of their highly acclaimed concept album Posthumous Silence at Kampnagel in Hamburg, Germany on the 1st September 2007. Not a regular concert hall but a hall where the 12 meter wide stage and whole production where built tailor-made for the Sylvan show, as can be seen in the Timelapse video in the bonus features. To create the full-blown sound necessary for the performance of the concept album the band is joined by an additional guitar player, three female backing vocalists and a cello player. Together this ten-piece combo play a highly convincing rendition of the 70+ minute concept album. The backing vocalists add an extra dimension to the music and make you wish they had been present on the original CD as well. Special mention also has to go out to new guitarist Jan Petersen for whom this is his first ever performance with Sylvan. Listening to his playing you wouldn't be able to tell, even though he's not present during all songs and guest guitarist Guido plays most of the solos since he'd already been touring with Sylvan during the Presets tour.
For the opening of the show the band shamelessly borrowed from IQ's Subterranea show by putting a see-through screen in front of the stage. The clear white album cover is projected on this screen, followed by some beautiful nature shots of a tree symbolizing unspoiled nature (the earth's pollution is one of the deeper themes in the album's concept). During Bequest Of Tears keyboard player Volker and singer Marco are in the spotlights and can therefore be seen through the screen (think IQ's Provider). The screen drops when the full band kicks in for In Chains.
There was some discussion between band and crew if projections should be used in the backdrop. The band wanted projections but the lighting engineer wanted a black backdrop because the lightshow would look so much better. A brilliant consensus was found in a retractable black curtain that could be pulled open during projection scenes and closed during the rest of the show. The result is certainly an absolutely stunning (fully pre-programmed) lightshow, one of the best I've seen for a production of this scale. As a matter of fact, the lighting engineer is as much the star of the show as the band. Unfortunately however, the lights are not turned down enough during some of the projection scenes and therefore the projections are a bit hard to make out from certain camera angles during tracks like The Colours Changed, Answer To Life and Kind Of Eden. Either the projector was not powerful enough of the lights drown out to much on film. A real shame since moments like the dark opening of the title track and part of Pane Of Truth show how beautiful these projections actually are.
The filming is done very professionally with quite a few camera's (there's nine people filming and more than 10 camera's) including some mobile ones and a crane camera. There's a few very interesting camera angles, like the one capturing the keyboard player and the backing vocalists on the elevated platform behind him on one shot. The editing of all the footage is done tastefully with the exception of a couple of heavier songs like In Chains and Forgotten Virtue when there's simply too many short shots quickly following each other. Not only is this very unnerving to watch, you also don't get time to actually take in what you're watching.
There's several more elements that make the show interesting. There's the appearance of the cello player during several songs and Marco's usage of the arrow-shaped elevated platform between the drummer and keyboard player during powerful moments. Although he admits that he's not a very theatrical performer Marco does put a lot of feeling in his act. Another neat part of the lightshow are the 'audience blinders' that are both on stage and behind the band. At times these are so incredibly bright that they blind out the whole band, like in Forgotten Virtue. At the end of the show the projection screen drops and these lights just burst out at full power, symbolizing the light at the end of the tunnel and completely dissolving the stage. There's also quite a bit of spooky smoke and a fair deal of strobes during at least one song. And there's the little things, like the audience waving coloured sticks during The Colours Changed, which they had spontaneously brought with them without any kind of planning by the band. The band play along with a click-track making the timing of the pre-programmed lightshow spot-on, enabling sequences like in Answer To Life when the lightshow moves exactly in time with the piano and bass.
There's a lot of bonus material on this DVD. As a matter of fact, there's as much bonus material on the DVD as there's actual music. And although most of the bonus footage is quite interesting that's also the biggest disappointment of the DVD. Between the Posthumous Silence set and the closing Artificial Paradise the band played a collection of 'best of' songs that added up to at least another 70 minutes of material. Most of this appeared on the double live CD Leaving Backstage. My biggest frustration is that this material is not included on this DVD. I would much rather have had those live tracks than the bonus material. As a matter of fact, I'd rather have those songs on DVD, adding the visual aspect, than on live CD since the renditions are fairly true to their studio versions and a live CD therefore does not add much value.
There's another couple of disappointments regarding the bonus features. Most important is the fact that whereas a lot of effort was put in adding English and German subtitles to the main show, enabling you to read the lyrics while listening to the music, subtitles are completely absent from the bonus materials. And that's where you actually need them the most, or at least most international fans will. I can understand enough German to follow what's being said in the interviews and making-of documentaries, but without proper knowledge of the German language most of the 74 minutes that are spend on these features are just a waste of disc space. As a matter of fact it beats me why they have taken the effort to make the 34 Days documentary look like an English (!) episode of 24, but than not bothering with the subtitles. The audio commentary that comes with the concert is funny and informative as well, but without subtitles will be useless for non-German speaking people. For those who understand German there's quite a few funny moments that prove that this band has a great sense of humour (especially Volker) and does not take itself too serious. However, I wish they had just taken themselves a bit more seriously and put some more thought into this. There's quite a few orchestral and instrumental versions of songs from the concept album used as score for the bonus materials, but this will be a cold comfort for those who won't understand the language. Another missed opportunity is that the band's best song ever, Artificial Paradise, has been added as a bonus track in it's full 20 minute grandeur, but they did not include a 5.1 mix. Damn !
All in all a DVD that has it's flaws in excluding the second set of the concert and instead providing a lot of bonus material that will not make any sense to the international fans. A missed opportunity, especially since the DVD offers the band a chance to present themselves with the worldwide audience that they deserve but will not always be able to play to. Then again, the main feature is good enough to still earn this DVD a DPRP recommendation, mainly because of the splendid performance and the absolutely stunning lightshow.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Porcupine Tree - Lightbulb Sun
Disc 1: Lightbulb Sun (5:31), How Is Your Life Today ? (2:46), Four Chords That Made A Million (3:36), Shesmovedon (5:14), Last Chance To Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled (4:48), The Rest Will Flow (3:18), Hatesong (8:30), Where We Would Be (4:13), Russia On Ice (13:05), Feel So Low (5:22)
DVD Extras: Disappear (3:40), Buying New Soul (10:26), Cure For Optimism (6:36), Original 2000 stereo album mix, Gallery, Lyrics
What is the point of reviewing an album which has already been reviewed? Good question. After 13 years of DPRP it happens more and more that an album is being re-released while we already reviewed it the first time it came out. Now when such a re-release is no more than a repackaging and a new catalogue number, there is no point reviewing it a second time. However, when the album has been remastered with improved sound quality and/or the new version contains bonus material, then we are all too happy to take the opportunity to re-evaluate the album.
Besides, we did all the other DVD-A reissues (Fear Of A Blank Planet, In Absentia, Stupid Dream) and furthermore, in my opinion this is still the best Porcupine Tree album, and reviewing will hopefully generate some interest in the album for the newer generation of Porcupine Tree fans, who to my big surprise, did not even seem to know this album when the band played its title track during their last tour!
Lightbulb Sun is the last of Porcupine Tree's studio albums which was out of print until recently and which has now been re-released by K-Scope/Snapper. The album has been given the same treatment as Stupid Dream two years ago: a CD/DVD re-release with a new stereo mix of the album on the CD, and a surround mix of the album on the DVD.
Like the recent Porcupine Tree DVD releases the DVD features a DVD-A and DVD-V layer. The DVD-Audio layer offers superior audio quality in MLP lossless format; both 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround. The DVD-Video layer is playable on any type of DVD player and contains an equally good DTS version of the album. As an added bonus the original 2000 stereo mix is also included on the DVD, so you can listen to the differences between the old and new versions.
Like Lightbulb Sun this is the definitive version of Lightbulb Sun to own. You have the CD to play in your car or rip to your MP3-player, and the DVD version gives you a wonderful surround mix in superior audio quality. Focusing on the latter, the 5.1 lossless mix is just mouth watering. I have praised Steven Wilson's surround mixes before, but they just seem to get better and better. Resisting temptation to stuff the mix full of surround gimmicks it is as if for each and every note the positioning in the room has been carefully thought out. Like in films the vocals are mainly coming from the centre channel, but backing vocals do appear mostly from the rear channels, creating a very open, spacious effect.
Occasionally Wilson pokes a little fun with the senses by having some sounds or effects revolve around the room - Shesmovedon is a nice example where you hear the title whispered from a different corner every time. Russia On Ice, the 13-minute pièce de résistance of the album is another song which has hugely benefited from the surround treatment. Wilson had always resisted temptation to put additional emphasis on the subwoofer channel until now. Some additional sub-sonic thumbs have been added to the finale of the track, adding a fantastic effect (though it could potentially ruin the relationship with your neighbours if you play this full volume too often).
Three more tracks from the Lightbulb Sun recording sessions have been included as bonus tracks on the DVD (only available in surround format): Disappear, Cure For Optimism and the wonderful Buying New Soul.
The first 5000 copies of the album came with an additional bonus CD, featuring two more tracks: Novak and the instrumental backing track of Buying New Soul which originally ran 4 minutes longer. This bonus CD was already sold out during the pre-order phase of this album and will not be reprinted.
My conclusion? Well, in my opinion Porcupine Tree's best album got even better. As much as I like their recent output, I do feel the band has sacrificed melody for heaviness. Lightbulb Sun offers a perfect blend between heavy riffs, powerful guitar solos, ballads, and even some more poppy moments. People who only discovered the band after the success of Deadwing and Fear Of A Blank Planet would do well checking out this gem of the past.
Conclusion: 9.5 out of 10
Soft Machine – Alive In Paris 1970
Tracklist: Facelift, Esther's Nosejob, Introduction, Eamonn Andrews, Backwards/Mousetrap Reprise, Out-Bloody-Rageous
This archive release is a must have for fans of the Canterbury legends Soft Machine, capturing them, as it does, between the short-lived septet which toured briefly at the end of 1969, and the recording of Third later in 1970. This, then, is the equally transitory quintet line-up, seeing the core trio of Hopper, Wyatt and Ratledge joined by jazzers Elton Dean and Lyn Dobson.
Extemporising wildly around much of the material which would come to light on Third, but also including sections (Mousetrap and Eamon Andrews) which never made it into the studio, this film (originally made for French TV show Pop2 and broadcast in two parts) shows the band at , arguably, its creative peak. The material was chiefly in the form of extended instrumentals and taking on more and more of an improvisational jazz approach, but still retained (at this stage at least) the psychedelic invention which lay at the heart of the so-called “Canterbury Scene”.
Ratledge and Hopper are magnificent throughout, with Ratledge’s signature organ sound writ large across most of the tracks, and Hopper’s fuzz bass sounding mean, moody and many years ahead of it’s time. It’s great too, to be reminded what a sensational drummer Robert Wyatt was, and to witness him in action before the tragic accident which forced him to give up the drums and eventually become the eccentric, cult composer and singer we love today.
The wind section of Dobson and Dean get plenty of stage-front time too and they gel together as a unit in fine style. I particularly enjoyed Dobson’s flute work on Facelift, and he also plays harmonica and scat-sings a little in addition to the great soprano sax work throughout.
Being professionally recorded for TV, the quality of sound and vision is excellent, but the camera work is a touch on the eccentric side, often shooting the band from the back of the stage, or over one of the band members’ shoulders. Although mystifying at first, it is an approach which actually gives the film its own character and an unusually intimate portrayal of a hard-working band.
For some reason, there are a few intrusive overdubs of an over-enthusiastic audience (clearly not the actual audience at the show) which are clumsily dropped in at inappropriate moments. Aside from this minor quibble, and the fact that the DVD sleeve gets the track-listing in the wrong order (the correct order is as shown above), this is a hugely entertaining performance and an important historical document as well.
Conclusion: 8 out of 10
Acid Mothers Gong – Live At UNcon 2006
Tracklist Teapot In Ruins, Tsunami Magick, Invocation Of The Interior Motive, Steve & Miquette Interview, Invisible, Voices, Asteroid Ointment
After the long and varied history of Daevid Allen, Gilli Smyth and Gong dating back to the late ‘60’s the recent collaborations with Japanese improvisational collective Acid Mothers Temple almost seem like a logical step but in another way it gives the band a new lease of life extending their unique abilities into new directions and reaping grand rewards. Having toured Japan together in 2003 they recorded the Acid Motherhood album in 2004. This latest collaboration features a different line-up and was captured at the 2006 Gong Family Unconvention at the Melkweg in Amsterdam.
The band for this show sees Allen and Smyth teamed with Yoshida Tatsuda (drums - Ruins/Ruins Alone), Kawabata Makoto (guitar), Atsushi Tsuyama (bass and voice), Hiroshi Higashi (synths & noises) and Josh Pollock (guitar – University Of Errors) and what a fabulous bunch of musicians these guys are, their improvisational skill powering things along but leaving enough space for Allen and Smyth to do their thing. I suspect that this is a marriage made in heaven for both sides.
The 70-minute show kicks off with drum legend Tatsuda doing his Ruins Alone thing and drumming like a man possessed with his own synthesised accompaniment. Absolutely brilliant and worth the price of admission on his own, Tatsuda is centre stage in strobing light, split screen views giving different angles on his performance. Next the rest of the Acid Mothers take the stage to hammer their way through Tsunami Magick before the Gong crew then join for much craziness and improvisation; Allen in orange top and what appears to be pink pyjama trousers and a long scarf, his grey hair tied in a bunch, Gilli in black with a blue cape stands in front of the drum riser – game stuff for a lady in her 70’s!
The small stage is packed, psychedelic lighting providing the requisite trippiness. Daevid looks very happy, adding weird witterings and Glissando guitar to the mix while Gilli wails in a freaky way, both free styling over a great groove. This is very entertaining and not at all conventional. Vocal effects see Daevid doing his Pothead Pixie thing, a feat that he reprises later on. There’s a brief break for an interview with Steve Hillage and Miquette Giraudy enthusing about what they thought of the gig before we’re back on stage with Invisible, Makoto bowing his guitar and the rest winging it to the max. Allen’s guitar is employed to good effect throughout the set and on Voices he starts a rhythm that Tatsuda picks up and runs with. The Acid Mothers power takes over and there’s plenty of proper weirdness going on with some great bass work. Higashi loads the sound with spaciness and sound flashes that takes the show to new levels. Great stuff.
After another quick break for a subtitled interview snippet from Makoto we’re off again with Asteroid Ointment, Daevid on another lyrical flight of fancy, which Makoto underpins, everything building into a great ensemble piece with, again, some playing from Tsuyama on bass. The DVD also has additional visual effects overlaid onto the band in postproduction, which adds to the otherworldly effect already employed on the back projection screens. The rest of the set comprises the jams Sweet Minnie Marmalade, Anyone Candowit, Soul Balloon, Mabeline and e eye o that are all marvellous and continue on from the end of the set proper. Gilli’s interplay with the band is often great, as you fear she may be swept away in the melee. Elsewhere Daevid sings “Anyone Candowit!” - but not many would even think to try. More split screen is added as a groove appears by magic and Pollock adds megaphone to the mix. This has clearly been beamed in from the far reaches of space and we should be glad to have it. The scintillating improvs ebb and flow and all the players are on top form on these fantastic extended jams, Allen jigging about and obviously loving every second.
Throughout Tatsuda is astounding and whenever the band grooves they are unstoppable. I’ve seen Makoto and Tatsuda performing as a duo and it was one of the most bizarre and rewarding gigs I’ve ever been to. I’d give my right arm to see them with Tsuyama on bass and an additional guitarist; it’d make your brain bleed. If you love improvisation with power in spades where needed, these guys are for you. Probably an ideal band to suggest the next time King Crimson are looking for a support.
The extras are extremely limited being merely quick links into the tracks and interviews including the jam tracks, which aren’t listed on the jacket. There is, however, a “Don’t Look Here” menu option. Don’t look there unless you want to see Makoto on the toilet and a pregnant Daevid Allen amongst other things. They did warn me. A great deal more could have been made of the available extras as there is obviously additional sound check and backstage footage, snippets of which occur here and there on the DVD. This lack of anything additional has cost the package half a point in the rating but it doesn’t detract from the fabulous main feature.
This DVD performance is not to be merely watched but experienced. My daughter happened to be in the room while I was watching it and asked me what this “shitty, scary crap” was and I guess that’s the point. You can’t just step into this stuff blindly expecting anything in particular because it will probably just be “shitty scary crap”. Be prepared to go with the flow and it’s an exhilarating and uncompromising flight of fancy by some brilliant musicians and a couple of true eccentric one-offs that should be treasured. Love or loathe Gong weirdness, they should be revered for their efforts and willingness to try new things. Give it a go; you may hate it but it’s sure to be a total blast if you’re loaded.
Conclusion: 8.5 out of 10
Daevid Allen’s University Of Errors – Plays The Soft Machine
Tracklist: That’s How Much I Need You Now, Save Yourself, Hope For Happiness, She’s Gone, When I Don’t Want You, You Don’t Remember, I Should Have Known, Shooting At The Moon, Stoned Innocent Frankenstein, Fohat Digs Holes In Space, Love Makes Sweet Music
If you can get over the incongruity of an old man (lets face it, Allen was merely a year and two months away from his 70th birthday when this was recorded, and in Rock Biz terms that is definitely OLD!) singing pop songs that themselves are 40 years old, you can settle back and enjoy just over an hour of expertly filmed and recorded music which breathes new life into some long neglected gems from the Psychedelic Sixties.
The bulk of the material is taken from the Demos that the first incarnation of the Soft Machine (featuring Allen on guitar) recorded with Giorgio Gomelsky in 1967. Rough in quality, they were never intended to be released, and I believe Gomelsky’s cavalier recycling of them in different guises over the years has rankled with the band members.
Perhaps to reclaim the songs at last, Allen re-recorded the material with his new young(er) American Band University Of Errors in 2004. They chose to tackle it again in their set at the Gong Family Unconventional Gathering at Amsterdam’s Melkweg on 6th November 2006. Accompanied by a suitably swirly psychedelic lightshow, the band vigorously attacks the vintage material, giving it a modern punch whilst largely retaining the original atmosphere. These versions perhaps show how the original band might have developed the material away from its pop roots, given the time and freedom to explore their own creativity further.
Towards the end of the set, Allen veers away from the pop songs to include a long spacey segue of Stoned Innocent Frankenstein (from his first solo record Banana Moon) and Fohat Digs Holes In Space from Gong’s Camembert Electric album. These songs showcase the space rock direction that Allen would pursue with Gong, featuring Allen’s patent Glissando guitar technique (viewed in excellent close-up for the curious) and weird Theremin accompaniment from guest Nicolleta Stephanz. The set concludes with a snappy version of Love Makes Sweet Music to round things off.
Voiceprint should be applauded for making this set (with other sets from the Unconvention) available to give those of us who couldn’t make it to the festival a chance to see what we missed. Admittedly, there are no frills or extras of any kind – just the concert in its entirety, but I’m not complaining.
I enjoyed this DVD a lot more than I initially thought I would; the songs are remarkably engaging after all this time, and the performance has a lot more to offer than just novelty value. It’s surely a must buy for all early Softs/Allen/Gong fans.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10
SBB - Four Decades
Live in Katowice, Nov 19th 2007: Pielgrzym, Odlot, Freedom With Us, 3rd Reanimation, Going Away, Zywiec Mountain Melody, Memento Z Banalnym Tryptykiem, Piesn Stojacego W Bramie, Ptonace Mysli (Ojcu), Rainbow Man, Drums, Walkin’ Around The Stormy Bay, Skala/The Rock, Sunny Day, Z Ktorych Krwi Krew Moja
Live in Katowice, Feb 24th 2006: Memento Z Banalnym Tryptykiem, New Century (Incl. Tajemniczy Swiat Mariana), Odlot, Rainbow Man, Calkiem Spokojne Zmeczenie, Iprov: Drums-Battle, Walkin’ Around The Stormy Bay
Extras: Interview with Jozef Skrzek; Interview with Apostolis Anthimos; Interview with Gabor Nemeth; Biography; Discography; Photo Gallery
SBB emerged in Poland as the Silesian Blues Band in 1971, the initials changing to stand for “Seek, Break, Build” in 1973 after the original band broke up. Over the course of the next decade the trio of bass and keys man Jozef Skrzek, guitarist Apostolis Anthimos and drummer Jerzy Piotrowskiy built a reputation as the most prominent progressive rock band in Poland. Their early style recalled Jimi Hendrix and Cream but lyrical piano pieces were also introduced into their repertoire and over subsequent releases the band experimented with synthesizers. The band regularly toured Eastern Europe but by 1977 was playing Western Europe too. Slawomir Piwowar was added to the line-up on guitar in 1979 but the band split in 1980. Sporadic reformations occurred in the early 1990’s but in 1998 the band came back on a more full time basis with Skrzek, Apostolis and a series of drummers, most notably Paul Wertico who had spent many years with Pat Metheny group, the current incumbent being Hungarian Gabor Nemeth who joined the band before the release of their last album, The Rock.
Four Decades features this latest line-up in an intimate theatre setting in Katowice in November 2007 playing material from throughout the bands history plus a bonus of the support set the band played at a Deep Purple show in Katowice in 2006 with a different line-up, the audio version of this set being previously released on CD as Live In Spodek 2006.
Firstly, a look at the 2007 show. The fifteen tracks cover a lot of ground and show the group at their best. The theatre is a small three tier auditorium, the curtain raising in theatrical style to reveal the band bathed in red light and dry ice quite far back on the stage, which looks a little odd and probably impaired the view of some of the audience who are enthusiastic and supportive. This may be for technical reasons but it also distances the band from the listeners more than is necessary. Back projections are employed throughout but not of the performers and the stage is set up with Nemeth stage centre, Skrzek’s bank of analogue and digital synths to his right and Anthimos to his left. Most of the tracks feature Skrzek on keys, which leads to a lot of the music being atmospheric and emotional rather than rocky, but he does occasionally strap on his bass. He is also in very good voice and sings some of the songs in English. I have seen criticism of his vocals in other reviews on DPRP but I find him to have a powerful yet emotional voice that I do not have a problem with. Not the best singer in the world but I could name many worse ones.
The set opens in low-key fashion with a nice Eastern sounding piece and the band seem very comfortable together. This atmospheric yet strong opener is percussive with Mini Moog melody over a synth wash. Ominously, Anthimos appears on a small drum kit beside Nemeth – more of this later. Skrzek addresses the crowd (with English subtitles available), thanking them and introducing the band before kicking off the rockier Odlot. All of the players offer lovely touch, which enhances the dynamics of the music. Skrzek is a very expressive bass player and it would have been nice to hear more of his playing on this DVD. Anthimos has a unique style and his own voice with lots of tremolo while Nemeth is solid and precise. The next piece is quiet, subtle and moving with English vocals before a jazzy keyboard led instrumental with driving drums followed by Skrzek solo with some atmospheric electronica. The band return for another low-key number and the crowd recognise and respond to the words of Memento Z Banalnym Tryptykiem featuring a nice solo from Anthimos, one of many from the show.
As we get into the second half of the set the main problem emerges. Like so many of the previous songs the next two are both atmospheric and quiet and despite being very beautiful they offer little variety to the set. Rainbow Man appears to be a tribute to Hendrix, his image appearing in the back projection, and is a nice funky power trio number. Next is the sets only real downer – the drum solo(s). Nemeth is a talented and proficient drummer, very solid and like gold to any band. His playing is great throughout the set but I don’t need to hear him soloing. Anthimos again appears on the small kit mentioned earlier and alternates solos with Nemeth. The best that can be said is that as a drummer he makes a good guitarist. I don’t see the point of this as the man is simply not good enough and it all gets a bit cringe worthy and just seems like a pointless excuse for him to practice his meagre drumming skills. This section is also too long but Anthimos remains on his kit and attempts to lock into Nemeth’s solid beat as Skrzek returns for Walkin’ Around The Stormy Bay, which works quite nicely and ends the main set. First encore track, Skala/The Rock, is a really good rocking number with heavy keys and a Godzilla stomp to it but on Sunny Day the vocals are not great and the guitar solo is very odd with too much tremolo action before the last track closes the show with more emotion and atmosphere, picking up to a stately climax. A belter would have been better.
Camera work throughout the set is very good and visually engaging with probably 7 different angles available to the director. The lighting is tasteful and effective and the back projections add to the visuals. The quality of the sound is also very good.
The much shorter 2006 set is from a shed typical of most Deep Purple gigs and is more limited in the visuals and lighting department with limited camerawork and reduced sound quality. In fact there is a slight delay in the audio for this section, which is a shame. The line-up here is different with Skrzek and Anthimos being joined by Slawomir Piwowar for the first time in 25 years and young drummer Irek Glyk who plays with less finesse than Nemeth. This set has its audience in mind and Skrzek stays mainly on bass. The additional guitarist pads out the sound nicely and the drummer flails away on a tiny kit. Anthimos plays a double neck guitar and his soling technique is much different as a result. The three tracks that appear in both shows have very different arrangements here, which is nice to see. Again there is a pointless drum battle of which there is only ever going to be one winner, but like in the other set the track that follows it is a winner with the two drummers sticking to a metronomic beat.
The audio options include a Dolby 5.1 mix for the 2007 show and the extras available on the disc are OK with the inclusion of a basic biography and photo gallery plus 15 minute interviews with each member of the group individually. All have English subtitles available, Nemeth’s interview also being available in Polish as it was conducted in Hungarian. These interview segments cover similar ground; Skrzek appears bored and looks away or shuts his eyes a great deal while Nemeth is the most engaging speaker of the three. Topics covered include the style of the new album, Nemeth’s introduction into the band (Skrzek is surprisingly offhand here) and future plans.
Overall, I’d say that this is a great place to start if you are unfamiliar with the band and the two shows offer very different views of them. The playing is generally top notch as is most of the chosen material. The 2007 show looks great and is nicely recorded and presented but could do with a few rockier moments to drive the set along, the second half flagging slightly in comparison with the first. The earlier show is rougher but still of good quality with a noticeably higher rock quotient to appeal to Deep Purple’s audience. A worthy band well presented.
Conclusion: 7.5 out of 10