It seems slightly incredible to me that, in a week when three highly regarded prog acts are playing headline acts in York, two of them are scheduled to clash. Surely such clashes end up taking money away from both venues. Tonight saw Fish playing the Duchess while the slightly less “mainstream” The Pineapple Thief are a matter of yards away at Fibbers. For me, having seen (and enjoyed) Fish last year, the choice was to see a band I hadn’t had the opportunity to see before and while there were people in the audience who were sporting Amplifier T-shirts from the previous night’s gig at The Duchess – Amplifier and Pineapple Thief being closer in sound than Pineapple Thief and Fish – there must surely have been people who chose to see the arguably(?) bigger name.
Tonight’s openers were Playing The Pilot, a young local band with that wonderfully generic label of “alternative/indie/rock”. The high-slung guitars had Roj worried and, being honest, the band seemed a little out of place on tonight’s bill. At least vocalist Kat had a bit of stage presence and an engaging smile whenever their own fans, dancing at the front, cheered and showed their appreciation. Vocally, Kat sounded very like Lily Allen, with that sort of Cockney-accented spoken style of singing and a propensity for extending words by increasing their vowel count (if you see what I m-e-e-e-an…) but, when she did sing, she had a pleasant enough voice. Musically, it was all a bit generic and samey. In fact it was only with the fourth song of the set that I noticed the beginnings of a bit of variation. The mix sounded a little wrong as well – most of the guitar was muffled behind a very loud bass. Having said all that, I’ve certainly seen worse support bands and this one got a better reception than some who don’t quite fit the bill. At the end of their set the band left the stage to generous applause from the whole audience, perhaps showing that prog fans aren’t necessarily as narrow-minded musically as they can sometimes be portrayed.
Of course, calling prog fans “narrow-minded” opens up a minefield in itself. Gone are the days when you could easily point to a band and label them as “progressive rock”. In my day, it was the likes of Genesis, Pink Floyd and Yes and most people can see similarities between them. These days prog rock has, ahem, moved on and the sub-labels sometimes read like a secondary school timetable, with Space and Kraut Rocks sitting alongside Math Rock and Art Rock. All we need to invent is Biology Rock, Frog Rock (sorry, couldn’t resist) and Free Period Rock and we’ll have ourselves an A-Level curriculum. These days prog-rock can be all but indistinguishable from its own roots. And that is the case with The Pineapple Thief. While they are similar to what is considered modern prog bands – one that immediately sprang to my mind was Porcupine Tree – you would never get them mixed up with any of the bands mentioned above. Their’s is, for the most part, a heavier, darker sound, sometimes mixed with an occasionally annoying electronic pseudo-dance beat provided by one of Steve Kitch’s laptops (I think I saw two nestled in with his keyboards).
As with Amplifier the night before, I hadn’t heard any of the Thief’s output before tonight. I reasonably certain that the set started with three song from the highly regarded 2010 album Someone Here Is Missing. These consisted of moments of calm interspersed with intense activity Then, vocalist, guitarist and founder Bruce Soord announced that they would be playing new material which was currently being worked on for a new release next year. The first of these, receiving its world debut tonight, was introduced as the heaviest song on the next album, consisted in parts of what I can only describe as “grinding” keyboard playing, with Kitch producing sounds you wouldn’t normally associate with keyboards before changing to a more symphonic style of playing. The next song, also a new one, was a quieter, acoustic number which showed a nice variation and also allowed the keyboards to take more prominence.
…and it was there that I stopped taking notes and allowed myself to become immersed in the superb music – a set containing a mixture of old and new songs all thoroughly entertaining and ending with an epic, nearly fifteen minute encore. Soord is an energetic frontman and both his guitar-playing and vocals were superb. In what seems to be the way of keyboard players, Kitch is the quiet, almost studious, man of the band and was often seen studying laptop screens while playing (I’m fairly certain I saw him reading the music for some of the songs – maybe they are so new that he hasn’t learned it yet…). The rhythm section of Keith Harrison (drums) and Jon Sykes provided a solid backdrop for the set, with the latter also providing backing vocals. Overall, it was a very tight performance and I really hope that the band returns to York in the future. Maybe Sykes being a local lad will help. Inevitably, I visited the merchandise table after the gig and treated myself to a couple of CDs.