I have to admit, I was torn tonight. One of my favourite bands had moved up to headline a gig at the Duchess while another, newish band were playing Fibbers. I had only read about Vega a few days before I realised they were due to appear in York and that single page article (in Classic Rock Presents AOR magazine) had got me interested enough to want to see them live. And so it was that I decided to head off to Fibbers. After all, I have seen Morpheus Rising almost every time they have played York and there will be opportunities to see them again in the future.
My first impression on arriving at the venue was that I had somehow mistakenly crashed a crèche. Quite often I (with or without the rest of the gang) am one of the oldest at a gig but it’s rare that I could easily have been a parent of most of the audience. I suspect most of the early attendees were there primarily for the first band, who were just starting when I got there. It took me a little while to get my “support act bearings” as this band didn’t seem to match up with the description of the first act on the bill. It turns out that they were Sonic Tractor, presumably a late addition to the bill. Comprising of Steve Lawson (guitar, vocals), Cal Harrison (guitar, backing vocals), Adam Inglis (bass) and Arthur Newell (drums), they started with a riff reminiscent of Aerosmith and strong drums which all but drowned out the vocals and. Unfortunately, as the song went on, it all seemed to me to get a bit muddled. Admittedly the vocals got stronger and the songs seemed a little more structured as the set went on and the guys were pretty good musicians, as evidenced by covers of Knocking On Heaven’s Door and I Believe In A Thing Call Love (during which Steve pulled off a more than fair impression of Justin Hawkin’s vocals). Their own songs were varied enough to be interesting but, to my mind, they lacked something. Maybe I was just being unfairly prejudiced against the apparent youth of the band, although they have been around for more than a year. Or maybe it is just that they need to polish up a bit, perhaps working on a little stage presence – during an extended period when Cal was retuning, Steve didn’t really seem to know how to keep the audience engaged. Overall, not a disastrous start to the evening, but I’ve seen better. Although it has to be said that they know how to finish a set, ending with a song that, although the vocals were once again impossible to hear, contained some great music.
Unfortunately, drowned out vocals and retuning seemed set to be recurring themes of the evening, as Dimension also suffered from both. Formed in early 2011 and comprising Tom Bennett (vocals, guitar), Mark Robinson (lead guitar), Steve Kane (bass) and Richard Wappett (drums) they are billed as an alternative rock band working to create an original sound. Apparently, that mostly means heavy and loud with vocals that might as well have been non-existent. (It’s either my ears, the venue’s soundman or the bands themselves and I’m not willing to put my money on any of those options.) One Last Chance was a more melodic number than the opener, while the fourth of the set featured a staccato guitar sound that was, to me anyway, original but not very pleasant to listen to, which is a shame as the song contained a nice solo. This was followed by a song whose quieter moments allowed us to hear Tom’s vocals much more clearly and which had more melodic guitar work coming through the somewhat brash rhythm section and another during which Tom played by tapping the neck of the guitar, producing a slightly weird and interesting sound. Ultimately, however, there was little apart from the added gimmicks and effects to distinguish the songs. And I don’t think I’ve ever seen musicians wandering about the stage retuning their own and each other’s instruments during songs, especially not by ear. Again there was a hint of promise with Dimension that tonight didn’t quite seem to fulfil. Best song of the set was one I think was called Miles Away, but I even struggled a bit to hear the introductions (which might mean that the poor vocals weren’t the fault of the band).
There seemed to be a bit more maturity to Black Lit City, a blues/indie/rock band from York made up of Steve Lee, Alex Staples, Rob Yates, Dorin Botez and Lee Johnstone, and seemingly doing their best to look as far removed from a rock band as possible. I didn’t catch many hints of blues in their set, but I did hear entertaining, atmospheric, expansive songs, with a fuller sound. Keyboards and guitars both vied for lead instrument and combined to produce very pleasing music which in no way swamped the vocals which were, in their turn, strong and clear. The songs were varied. One was rock – with the guitarist’s fingers blurring as he furiously stroked the strings – another more poppy and another (Too Much Inspiration) very much 50’s Rock ‘n’ Roll. In one case genres were combined genres into something that sounded like a heavier version of a 60’s pop song. The whole set was a good mix of well-crafted songs. The only problem with this set was that it didn’t really fit in with the rest of the bands playing tonight.
By the time Vega took to the stage, in a very similar manner to how Morpheus Rising do so, Fibbers had filled up nicely and I found myself towards the back of a reasonably large and very varied crowd. In places it reminded me of the times I have seen Elliot Minor, with women of a certain age chaperoning their sixteen-year-old daughters. Except, in this case, the daughters hadn’t bothered turning up… A four-piece (Nick Workman – vocals, Tom Martin – guitar and bass, Dan Chantrey – drums and James Martin – keys) melodic rock band with, I think, two members originally from York, Vega play live as a sextet, joined by a bass player and second guitarist. Having said that, Tom is only credited with lead guitar on three of the twelve tracks on their debut album, with the rest going to either Nick Horne or Vince O’Regan. I’m by no means trying to be derogatory by saying that, if it were still the 80’s, I could see them opening for the likes of Def Leppard. Much like prog, melodic rock seems to be going through a renaissance at the moment and Vega, with a sound reminiscent of latter-day Bon Jovi, could well be at the forefront of the genre in the UK. Most of the audience seemed to already own the debut album (last year’s excellent Kiss Of Life, which I bought after the gig) or at least knew the songs, including the obligatory sing-along and shout-along sections and this was one of the biggest crowds I had seen at Fibbers for a while – not bad for a band which seems to have a minimal internet presence (the official site, linked above, is still under construction and the Facebook page wasn’t easy to find). Somehow, though, word has got round and, on the basis of this performance, rightly so. Memorable songs, great tunes and a very charismatic performance all added up to a great set which somehow seemed more suited to a bigger venue than Fibbers.
Whether I made the right call in my choice of gig tonight will forever remain unknown. I do know, however, that I ended up seeing one band liked a lot and another that I liked even more. Hopefully Vega, who billed tonight’s gig as a hometown one, will return to York again and hopefully, next time, they won’t clash with another band I like.