Progventure Part 3: Arena, Touchstone, Haken - The Assembly, Royal Leamington Spa, United Kingdom, 27.11.2011
Arena, Touchstone, Haken - The Assembly, Royal Leamington Spa, United Kingdom, 27.11.2011 by Ivor (49)
Ha-ha! Bet you didn't expect that, that part 2 of my Progventure is actually part 3 but would be published before part 2 as to appear to be actually part 2 instead. Anyway, what I actually mean to tell you is that I'm skipping somewhat ahead of the events to find myself, at some point in my adventures, in Royal Leamington Spa with intention of seeing one of the bands I've loved for years - Arena. I consider it an extremely good fortune that their only gig in England, the final one of the The Seventh Degree of Separation tour, was taking place in a suitable time frame.
Arena is one of the bands I've long wanted to see but never had the chance, as the tours of such bands rarely get too close to Tallinn. Besides, I'm getting an impression that Arena are not what you'd call a very active band in recent times. Oh, some of the members are pretty much always in the picture. I mean, Clive Nolan does get around a lot to have spawned a phrase within the prog community - Nolan Inside. But, first of all, let's be honest, it's been 6 years since the last album Pepper's Ghost was released and that's a long time. Second of all, news have been scarce in the meantime. I was even of the opinion that it was ominously quiet, ominously as in raising questions along the lines of "Are you still alive, guys?" And finally, they parted ways with their third singer Rob Sowden due to creative differences. That phrase usually says quite a bit without saying much, doesn't it?
But as luck had it, the band had recruited the new singer Paul Manzi, reunited with their old bass player John Jowitt, recorded a new album, and were on a European tour for most of November. And as I said, the gig in Leamington was the final one of the tour and the only one in England. More interestingly, though, it was exactly on the evening before the official release date of the album. So, you can tell I was excited at the prospect of hearing the new yet unheard stuff live, and of course buying the album at the merchandise stand. That is, my excitement besides being able to see the band live, of course.
As I arrived in Leamington in the late afternoon, I had some time to kill and thus wandered off to walk the city and to find a proper meal. I also wanted to find the venue before the gig, as I didn't really have a proper map of the city, even though the place was supposed to be on the same street I was staying at. Anyway, a while later, there I was, standing at the closed doors of The Assembly, looking at the poster of the upcoming gig and almost dropped my jaw. Imagine my surprise when I discovered who were one of the support acts - Haken. Holy moley! Standing there my evening had just gotten infinitely better. That one band wasn't part of my grand plan, but... there they were.
Having learnt the lesson of the previous gig, I arrived at the venue some 15 minutes after the doors opened. I had to settle some disputes, again, and when I entered the hall, someone had just started playing on stage. Goddamn Brits, you're not supposed to kick off the show as soon as the doors open, all right? You're supposed to give me some time to look around, get a beverage of choice to extinguish the thirst, and, you know, have a look at the merchandise. I mean, what's the rush?
So, as I entered the hall, I was expecting Touchstone to be playing, the other warm up act of the evening, the one I knew nothing about. I was kind of shocked to see Haken on stage instead. I thought with two pretty awesome albums in a short time behind the belt and, more importantly, me not knowing the second band, they should not have been the first one to play. But taking a good look from another perspective, I had to revise my opinion. If Haken were opening the night, then that's a bar set high for the unknown act. I think there was something people around me knew and I didn't, and it felt fishy.
Essentially there was only one problem with the Haken set. Before I move on, take a guess how many songs did Haken get to play in the time allocated to them. Do I hear five? Four? Yeah, right! Two. Fear not, though, in just about half an hour they got to play a relatively short "Insomnia" as the introduction and "Visions" as the conclusion, the mighty epic from their latest album. However, being there I felt like I was one step behind all the time. There's so much going on in the music that to get the hang of it and enjoy properly you need some time tuning in. Having arrived as I had, I felt like I was going down the bobsleigh track after the band, trying to keep up but still a couple of turns behind. Just when I got into properly enjoying the performance, the show was over. Bummer! So, yes, the only problem with the set was it being way too short for Haken.
Waiting for Touchstone to play, I got myself the new Arena CD and was contemplating the mixed feelings I was having from the Haken performance. Nevertheless, I was impressed. So, Touchstone had better be good. When the first heavy notes were played I still knew not what to expect. Then, this girl stepped on stage and started singing. Well, well... This was indeed something. Of course, England seems to have quite a number of prog bands with young female singers and key figures in their forties. There's definitely more of them than I can keep up with but one being up on stage that night was a good treat.
Touchstone were indeed good. And I'm not just saying that because I have a weak spot for these kind of bands. Hearing them for the first time ever was an interesting experience. The music sounded heavier than I assumed it would. Touchstone are also considerably easier on you than Haken, trading complexity for simplicity. However, being more straightforward, there was still some bite to it, and more than enough twists to sustain interest in it. In short, when the set ended, I went "Gimme! Gimme!" to the merchandise stand. Given the nature of their music, though, I'd still have swapped them and Haken around.
When the time came, Arena made a powerful entrance. Starting out with "The Great Escape" off the new album The Seventh Degree of Separation was impressive. A new song delivered right from the very beginning - a bold start but at the same time a very sensible choice. After all, it's the new album that was being promoted. And while this kind of move can to some extent alienate the crowd, in this instance it worked charms setting the mood. Moreover, and this is important, it allowed the new vocalist Paul Manzi come in with his own song, and not (re)interpret some old one right off. I'm probably reading into it more than there actually is to it, but either by conscious or subconscious choice it was a very good combination.
What came next, though, reminded me so much why I loved this band. First of all, The Visitor is to date my favourite of theirs and hearing songs from an album you admire is an emotional moment in no small amount. Secondly, hearing these melodies, the magnificent guitar work brought back tons of memories. And a bit of regret. While Arena have been dormant, it's been a long while since I last listened to their albums. Sometimes there's just so much of new music coming in that you tend to forget things that were there at the beginning of the road. Listening to "A Crack In The Ice" made me want to listen to all those albums again and again. I've been kind of rediscovering the band anew since that.
When I know the band's music really well, it's a bit hard to go to a concert featuring new material. Usually it's the matter of being less familiar with it and a new song always sticks out in this regard. Because of this, despite being excited to hear new Arena I was a bit uneasy as well. But either because I didn't know any of the songs off the new album, or because I was actually at the gig with a relaxed atmosphere in a superb looking venue suitable for a gig like this, I took instant liking to the new songs. I think this live performance is in no small amount responsible for me thinking that The Seventh Degree of Separation is becoming one of my favourites this year.
While the whole gig is a high point for me, the real moment was hearing "Serenity" live. Essentially this is guitarist John Mitchell's solo accompanied by Clive Nolan's keyboard atmosphere. This emotional guitar sound of indescribable beauty is one of the key ingredients of this band and it so made it worth being there at that very moment. However, deep respect goes to the new singer Paul Manzi as well for pulling off emotional "Crying for Help IV." As Clive Nolan later remarked, "I think we got ourselves a great vocalist." Indeed, Clive. Paul does live up to the standards set by previous singers.
1. The Great Escape (The Seventh Degree of Separation)
2. A Crack in the Ice (The Visitor)
3. (Don't Forget to) Breathe (The Visitor)
4. The City of Lanterns (Contagion)
5. Riding the Tide (Contagion)
6. What If? (The Seventh Degree of Separation)
7. One Last Au Revoir (The Seventh Degree of Separation)
8. Burning Down (The Seventh Degree of Separation)
9. Serenity (The Visitor)
10. Valley of the Kings (Songs From the Lions Cage)
11. Crying for Help IV (Songs From the Lions Cage)
12. The Eyes of Lara Moon (Pepper's Ghost)
13. Ghost in the Firewall (Immortal?)
14. Rapture (The Seventh Degree of Separation)
15. The Ghost Walks (The Seventh Degree of Separation)
16. Bedlam Fayre (Pepper's Ghost)
17. The Tinder Box (The Seventh Degree of Separation)
18. The Visitor (The Visitor)
19. Crying for Help VII (Pride)
20. Ascension (Contagion)
By the end of the gig, I was in a superb mood. I was having hell of a good time in England. What I had already seen by this time, was awesome. And even though it didn't go according to my plan to serve you with another surprising choice for my adventure later on - namely I wanted to get in on Zappa Plays Zappa - I couldn't care less about it. At that very moment, I had seen Arena. Fantastic!
Progventure Part 1: Textures, The Ocean - The Garage, London, United Kingdom, 25.11.2011
Progventure Parts 2&4: Pure Reason Revolution - The Final UK Tour
Written on 19.12.2011 by
I shoot people.
Sometimes, I also write about it.
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