29 July 2006
Vizela Festival, Vizela, Portugal
Written by John Morley and Steve Tomlin
Photos by Stephen Lambe
You never quite know what to expect on these European jaunts with Magenta, and this one was certainly...different. On this occasion, the band was invited to play at an annual festival in the town of Vizela in Northern Portugal.
Being 'a festival' this was an outdoor gig which was perfect for a balmy summer's evening in Southern Europe.
The arena (which also doubled as a very large car park) was close to the centre of town and was backed by a hillside covered in a variety of colourful homes which not only afforded a great vista but also created an impressive amphitheatre effect. The stage itself was a very large, purpose built affair. In fact it was one of the largest stages the band have played on to date, and was very well equipped indeed, with an excellent PA system, good lighting and very knowledgeable and friendly stage crew who certainly knew their stuff.
Though the band was not due to play until 22.00 that evening, they arrived for a soundcheck at 16.30, and were greeted with the first surprise of the day - a car park full of motorbikes and bikers performing all sorts of acrobatic displays. Apparently this was also part of the town's annual celebrations, and the roar of the engines was certainly going to make the soundcheck an interesting proposition. Indeed, for a while it looked like some friction might ensue but thankfully, after a little negotiation it was agreed that the bikers would drive around the town for a while allowing the band to set up in more tranquil surroundings. However, before this, we were entertained by an interesting little duel between Chris Fry's simulated motorbike guitar pyrotechnics and one of the bikers revving his engine, which was very amusing.
One thing was certain - it was going to be very loud, but thankfully the sound was also very well mixed and balanced. So it was time for a break and a bite to eat before returning later in the evening for the main course. At this stage we were wondering what sort of audience, if any, would turn up (apart from the biker crowd of course!) especially since the band would be largely unknown to the locals. As it turned out, a large and varied audience of all ages arrived. The promoters deserve to be congratulated as the event had been very well advertised with posters all over town and with beer on sale for the irresponsibly low price of half a Euro per glass; it didn't take long for the party atmosphere to get going.
Under an impressive bank of lights the band hit the stage in a cloud of dry ice with a very hard, rocky and LOUD version of King Of The Skies. Singer Christina immediately made good use of the large stage and made her presence felt with her incredibly soulful and powerful vocal. Not to be outdone, guitarist Chris Fry threw himself into full guitar hero mode and actually got himself a little fan club of local teenagers who had positioned themselves in front of the stage, lapping up his blistering guitar playing, in fact it wasn't long before a veritable mosh-pit had formed! It was heartening to see how much the crowd seemed to be enjoying the material, considering most of them were hearing it for the first time.
It just goes to show that when a band performs with the level of enthusiasm and professionalism that Magenta show, no matter where in the world they happen to be playing, the audience can't help but enjoy. Better still, some of the crowd even got a chant going..."Ma-gen-ta! Ma-gen-ta!" which spurred the band on to even greater heights.
Wisely, the band decided to stick primarily to the shorter numbers in the set, White Witch being the only 20 minute song, played as the first encore.
So we got the singles I'm Alive and Broken, Gluttony with it's new, reworked opening section, Lust and the intimate, acoustic Anger which had Chris Fry seated and Tina sitting cross legged on stage - and you could have heard a pin drop during this one and unfortunately a dry ice machine, which is probably the only gripe I can think of.
The Home material once again took up the middle section of the set, and just keeps getting better all the time. It should be said that there were some misgivings the first time the Home material was played live in this way with 7 or 8 new songs played almost continuously. But it does work, and extremely well too, because it's designed as a concept and works best when the tracks are linked in this way. What you basically get is the best of the Home material including Moving On, The Journey, Towers Of Hope, Demons and the epic Visionary with it's superbly catchy "You're a man in a million, reaching out" chorus - just one of the many highlights. Also now included is Joe which had it's live debut two nights before in the very different confines of Club Riga in Southend, emphasizing what a fine collection of new songs this band has to offer.
The main set closer was the stunning Pride, played with boundless energy and enthusiasm - bass player Dan Fry was jumping around and playing to the crowd so much we thought he was going to fly off the stage. There was lots of air guitar and idiot dancing down the front of the stage by us regulars, aided and abetted by the afore mentioned locals creating quite a frenzy down the front by the end of the show. The White Witch went down extremely well considering its length, with Chris Fry really getting to shine with some exquisite solos. No chance to go walkabout during one of his famous solo's here though, as it was a very high stage - so instead he decided to jump off and nick John's hat, which he wore on stage until Tina decided to steal it off him. Thankfully Mr Morley got it back in the end though.
But that wasn't enough for the crowd, so the band returned for a second encore and reprised King Of The Skies to a rapturous reception from the crowd. We should at this point mention Rob Reed, Martin Rosser and Allan Mason-Jones who don't get to run around the stage so much but who really are the backbone that holds the performance together and allows the others to shine.
Show over then, well that's what we thought but oh no, now it was time for the strippers. Yes, strippers, as in exotic dancers who take their clothes off.
I assume this is also part and parcel of the town's festivities, and one thing for sure - we certainly wouldn't get anything like this at a local English village fete! It was a bizarre sight indeed, with a Harley being lifted onto the stage from the back of a pick-up truck, and then the strippers being driven through the crowd before getting on stage to gyrate
and wiggle their bits for the hordes below. We watched this with some amusement from the back of the stage with the band, all good natured fun and was a very interesting way to end to the day to say the least.
Some of you may be wondering why it is that we keep going to watch the same band again and again and the answer is this. Magenta are a band that never rests on their laurels. They change and improve all the time, no two gigs are the same and in all the times we have seen them they have never appeared to 'go through the motions', which is pretty rare in this day and age. But just as important as the music for us is the social aspect; it's meeting new people and making new friends, not least the band themselves, that make these jaunts so enjoyable. It's sampling the local cultures, soaking up the atmosphere and above all having darn good fun with other fans of the band that make these trips so worthwhile.
So, Magenta's quest for world domination continues apace - watch out for them when they come your way, though I can't promise the strippers will be in tow...
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