Wednesday, 3rd September 2008
The Boerderij, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands
September 3rd 2008, No-Man gave their second live show in a limited tour of in total three gigs. The others were in Dusseldorf and in London. I was totally depressed for not being able to attend the London show for two main reasons: i) the venue (Bush Hall) which looks wonderful and I think would be a perfect host for No-Man's music, ii) the guest musicians that would appear on stage ONLY for that show. But after all, I was very pleased with No-Man's performance and the fact that I got an interview of Tim Bowness. Also, the guest star in London's show was simply Ben Coleman on violin – but due to Mr. Steve Bingham's performance on violin in this show, I did not really miss any guest star!
So after a quite annoying entrée with the support band Fear Falls Burning (one man band offering noise-drone experimentations), we were presented with the main dish of the evening: the No-Man band on stage. The band was a five piece, composed of Tim Bowness on vocals, Steven Wilson on guitar (and bare feet), Stephen Bennett: on keyboards, Andrew Booker on drums , Michael Bearpark on guitar, Pete Morgan on bass and "the maestro", Steve Bingham on electric violin (and leather trousers). Bennett, Booker and Bearpark are in fact part of Tim Bowness' band.
The gig kicked off with Only Rain off Returning Jesus, and it did not kick off very well due to some problems with the bass. Till the problems were solved, poor Steve Binghman had to keep on repeating 10 times the intro of the song! Shortly though, Tim's warm voice singing "no more fountains, only rain" immediately put everyone in a sweet narcotic mood.
And then – surprise! Unexpected, out of the blue selection, Time Travel in Texas off Wild Opera! What a choice giving a hint that more interesting events are to follow. A chaotic track where Wilson and rest had a first opportunity to to headbang and stretch the limits of an "art-rock" band, engaging in very experimental material – even if the sound at this point was not yet optimal.
The set went on with a very nice rendition of All Sweet Things out of Schoolyard Ghosts, with Steve on acoustic guitar and the violin giving it an extra touch that made it quite different from the original. Very enjoyable as it was presented, even if I was expecting something more flat that could hardly match the sublime beauty of the arrangements of the album version. All Sweet Things was followed by the triphop –like Pretty Genius, where I did miss a bit the flute which I think makes the track so distinctive in the album... Still, the rhythm section was very good and well blended with the guitars of Bearkpark and Wilson.
Next? All The Blue Changes... This is where all my fears and inhibitions about what a live No-Man could sound like disappeared. This is a very dark track from Together We're Stranger, which has a very strange and subtle evolution – it always stays hypnotic but towards its end the dynamics of the music change, without the wrapping changing dramatically. So what did No-Man do with it? They transformed it into a volcanic eruption. Wow! The real noisy explosion made it the highlight of the show...
Truenorth's first two parts came next. Even if Tim introduced it with a hope to get some cheers when the piano went off, people did not really react. However, the audience gave a warm clapping after the end of the central piece of Schoolyard Ghosts. An interesting side note is that the piano parts were played entirely by Andrew Booker on his electronic drum kit. Next, from the same album, came Whenever There is Light, which was rather faithful to the original, both musically and emotionally.
A back catalogue choice was next, the pop composition Days in the Trees, with the electric violin assuming a central role. A nice relaxed choice, because what followed is Lighthouse, one of the most complex and complete tracks the bands has ever written. The version performed resembled more the demo version, in that the famous middle part with the different time signatures was more ambient and minimal than the album version. Once again, the electric violin was superb!
As I said above, at some points the band completely changed the material of the albums when they presented it live. This also holds for the version of Carolina Skeletons which came next. And for this track, it was totally unexpected to experiment! Well, while everything was going up to plan till the middle or something, the boys were saving for the end a lot of witty improvisation, orchestrated by Wilson but equally supported by the rest of the instrumentalists (and of course the amazing Mr. Bingham).
Penultimate track for the main part of the show was Returning Jesus – one of my favorite No-Man tracks, and the band really "slowed it all down" with Tim being simply breathtaking and Andrew Booker on percussion wonderfully introducing the piece. Mixtaped ended the set with a mysterious flavor; wise choice to leave the stage, leaving the audience wondering what would come for dessert.
Things Change was the band's first encore: a nice and accessible song, and nice for encore, which was performed quite emotionally from Tim, giving a nice contrast at the end, when mainly the violin has to provide a highly improvisational solo performance. The second encore was Watching Over Me, which is a bit of a too sweet choice for ending the concert. I was slightly disappointed and was secretly hoping for My Revenge on Seattle instead... But what can you do? It's not me dictating the playlist, is it?
Overall, I think that No-Man gave more than expected. I expected something more faithful to the original versions, with an emphasis on the hypnotic element. This would be very hard to reproduce live in a concert hall, so I had a few doubts before the concert if it would work 100%. I was just worried that after the show I would say: Nice, but I still prefer to listen to this material at home with my headphones on. But, it wasn't like that – I saw a band that tried to push things to the limits, while still remaining close to and keeping the essence of the album versions. I saw a very well connected set of musicians that seemed to have worked well on the tracks presented.
Extra credits for the success of this endeavour should go to Steve Bingham, who despite not issuing from the rock field, gave an extra touch whenever needed and contributed a lot to keeping the interest always in high levels. The rest of the band was surprisingly good as well. Wilson was confined to a more background role: he rarely got himself in front, but looked for opportunities to headbang. Headbanging at a No-Man gig you say? Yes! As I said above, often the band gave in to explosions in songs where nobody would have imagined them... Tim was in total control of the situation and seemed very happy and fit to tour again. His best moments, and probably the gig's best moments? Returning Jesus and All The Blue Changes... He managed to mesmerize the audience properly sustaining his warm tone, while still succeeding in chilling us all when he went up in tone and volume. "I don't wanna stay, a million miles away..." out of Returning Jesus is probably the best example.
If you didn't catch the band live, I really recommend that you watch out for the live CD and DVD that will hopefully follow, covering the live show in London. You will definitely catch a glimpse of a band that live goes into new and unexplored territories compared to their material presented in their albums. In fact, this material is reborn into a completely new and fresh body, and so it is really worth a listen. My impression is that the feeling of the live band is closer to the chaotic elements of Wild Opera, rather than the more controlled and superbly produced and put together material of the last albums. As a final note, I would like to stress that it was surprising to see how "ready" and confident the band looked on stage – even if apart from the 2006 gig in Norwich, they were absent from the stage for 15 years. Let's hope they will also be confident enough in the future to go out touring again...
Time Travel in Texas
All the Blue Changes
Wherever There Is Light
Days in the trees
Watching Over me
No-Man Official Website
DPRP interview with Tim Bowness
DPRP No-man Review Special