Thursday 30th May: Quite frankly May has been a bit of a ridiculous month for gigs. I had been to seven in the first three and half weeks, decided not to go to one because I couldn’t really justify it and only missed another because I was working away.
I have already posted reviews of the first two but for a number of reasons haven’t had a chance to get round to the others. Now, with memories fading, nice weather meaning I’d rather be outside reading a good book and, in all honesty, a feeling of being a little “wiped out” in terms of putting together reviews (me with writers’ block… who’d have guessed) I find that I’m falling further and further behind. This blog was never intended to be as detailed as it has turned out and, while I’m grateful to the number of people who read it and, in some cases, like my work enough to share it, every so often there will be times that I can’t keep up. So, in order to fulfil its primary purpose as a record of my gig attendances, I’m simply going to round-up the rest of the month in a couple of smaller, less detailed posts. So, without further ado…
Friday the 11th saw me at the Duchess for Morpheus Rising’s first gig since their triumphant tour to promote their debut album earlier in the year. It’s too soon after the album release for any new material to have been completed (if even started) so the set is still comprised completely of tracks from Let The Sleeper Awake. Changing around the running order serves to freshen up the performance in some ways, helped by the fact that the musicianship is superb and that the band clearly enjoy playing live. Even Andy Smith, who normally lurks at the back of the stage (both when playing with Morpheus Rising and with Mostly Autumn) seems happier coming forward and interacting with the rest of the band. Once again, we were treated to some entrancing and intricate guitar work but I think this was the first time we have also heard Damien provide vocals during the album’s title track.
Support came from Four Stones Deeper – a four-piece femme-fronted rock band with a slight difference in that the power guitar-playing seemed to come from vocalist Amy Humphrys. I can’t find much about them out there, but I believe that Amy’s brother Luke plays bass while Joe Garlick and Tom Reed complete the line-up. Tonight’s performance suffered slightly with the vocals which, despite being powerful enough to be heard above the music, were a little flat to start with, but the melodic/thrash mix was different enough to be interesting. The six song set included one cover, but I didn’t catch the title. Overall, the playing was tight, with Amy looking very relaxed and handling the changes of musical style with ease. Also on the bill was BastRad, who also supported Morpheus Rising at their last York gig. I was slightly more impressed this time around, although Tristan Fayers’ vocals are still a little strained in places. It was a slick performance, loud, energetic and powerful.
Saturday the 12th and I’m “next door” at Fibbers for a band who I’ve only heard about, not heard anything by. When I arrived, the support – two ex-members of the headliners, whose names I never got – had already started. A broken microphone was making the vocals sound as if they were coming from a very dusty record and it was hastily replaced between songs, just in time for there to be no more vocals, just virtually indecipherable introductions to the tracks and a bit of between song banter between the performers, one of whom played a variety of hand drums and the other acoustic guitar and wind instruments that I didn’t recognise, accompanied sometimes by backing tracks. The music was, in the main, mellow and laid-back and occasionally had a kind of Eastern sound to it.
Ozric Tentacles took to the stage with a plea from bass-player Brandi Wynne for somebody to “turn that dreadful music off”, referring to the background music that had been playing while the acts swapped over, before she engaged in an increasingly frustrating fight to liberate herself from her Fibbers VIP wristband. The Ozrics are a space-rock (think ambient rock with added ‘droid and space battle sound effects) or psychedelic instrumental rock band from Somerset who have been around, in one form or another, for nearly thirty years. I didn’t know what to expect from this gig, but ended up thoroughly enjoying it. With an animated backdrop which cycled through a mesmerising kaleidoscope of images and with the band occasionally disappearing behind a bank of smoke, onto and through which was projected the best light show I’ve seen at Fibbers (apart from the three banks of incredibly bright lights which seemed to have been strategically placed to blind as many of the audience as possible). The performance was tight, a set full of incredible instrumentals in which everything was played with a calm precision and no histrionics or posturing and no hint of any two tracks sounding similar. Towards the end of the performance, the band was joined by the guitar-player from the support, who played flute and seemed to also launch into some spoken vocals (poetry?) to the apparent wonder of Ms Wynne and possible confusion of anybody standing around me as I couldn’t hear a thing he was saying. Was the microphone even on?
Perhaps the strangest part of the gig, however, was the audience, which pretty much filled Fibbers. Parts of it looked as though they were auditioning for a low-budget zombie movie, with blocks of people simply swaying along to the music, while others could only be described as dancing their hearts out. All-in-all, it was like being at a hippy rave.
Friday the 18th and I’m back at the Duchess. Opening proceedings tonight was Jon Amor Blues Group and I don’t think I’ve heard the volume cranked up so high at any previous Duchess gig. Frankly, in places it was too loud and, from where I was standing there appeared to be a fair amount of distortion in the sound. One song, Angel In A Black Dress, looked as if it contained a guitar solo, judging by the facial expressions and posturing coming from Mr Amor himself. Personally, I couldn’t make it out. A few of the songs sounded more like Rock ‘n’ Roll than Blues to me, but what do I know? Eventually, towards the end of the set, something seemed to click and during She Thought I Was An Eagle we finally got to hear some audibly clever guitar work. Unfortunately, by the last song the vocals were almost completely swamped by the music. Despite the sound problems, the band showed promise. Their debut album is gathering good reviews and I wouldn’t be averse to seeing them perform again, just with the volume turned down a few notches.
Until recently the only thing I knew about It Bites was their mid-eighties hit, Calling All The Heroes. I didn’t even know they were still together (albeit with the inevitable line-up changes) until Prog magazine covered their latest release, the concept album, Map Of The Past. Of course, when any band covered by that magazine play York, I’m almost certainly going to go along. Coming onto a stage adorned with artefacts representing the album’s concept (an old clock, an oil-painting, a globe) to the sound of a radio being tuned in, the band eased gently into the set with Man In The Photograph, performed simply on accordion and with no small degree of audience participation. It seems that I was in a minority in not having heard the new album yet (something I have since put right). What followed was, more or less, a play-through of the album leaving me with no doubt that It Bites had indeed morphed into a prog / rock fusion band, with influences ranging from Genesis to Runrig. It also left me wondering where everybody in the audience was when perhaps better known prog bands play York. The band left the stage after just over an hour which, I originally thought, was a slightly disappointing set compared to other gigs. They soon returned, however, with new frontman John Mitchell asking, “Shall we do some old stuff?” much to the delight of the crowd. The back catalogue seemed a bit faster and lighter than the somewhat darkly toned new material and, I think, much of it was taken from the band’s previous album, The Tall Ships. The audience, me excluded, seemed to know all the songs that were played, including the one from the final encore. The “hit”, however, was nowhere to be heard.