Ars Nova & Egdon Heath, October 17th 1998
Willem II, Den Bosch, The Netherlands

By Derk van Mourik

On the strength of a song

Three days before the gig I was asked if I had something planned for Saturday yet and upon my negative answer to that question I was offered to go along to Arsnova who would play the Willem II venue in Den Bosch that evening.

Until then I had heard one song by Arsnova, the very bombastic Emerson, Lake & Palmer like Morgan. After all, I also went to the Spock's Beard gig earlier this year on the strength of knowing but one song (The Light) and was totally blown away! (they are now my favourite contemporary band). And since I'm quite into ELP I decided to go. Well, I was in for a treat.

The gig was to be a double concert with Egdon Heath, one of The Netherlands’s most enduring prog bands. I had seen them once before, supporting Pendragon on their Masquerade Overture tour. I read in the Willem II programme that they've been around since 1981 and are still playing in the same line-up that they had then!

When we entered Willem II we saw a poster of the three Arsnova ladies, proclaiming this the 1998 Arsnova World Tour. And visiting three continents (Asia, North America and Europe) that statement is nothing but the simple truth. We discovered that Arsnova was to play first that night, at nine o'clock, although we had been led to believe that Arsnova would in fact be headlining this gig.

Anyway, it wasn't until 9.20 that Arsnova took to the stage. The drummer was the first to appear. She was wearing a traditional Japanese kimono and some sort of headband with two "eyeballs on stick" (sorry, can't think of a better way to describe it). Her drumkit was decorated with all sorts of inflatable animals (I saw a pink pig there, but nevertheless no Floyd influences in the music!). She started the gig with a drum solo and the ease with which she handled the sticks was immediately apparent. All the while she just smiled a bit at the cameramen while playing one complicated drum fill after the other. After a while the two other members came on stage. One thing that struck me immediately was that there was no bass player although I had been told that the line-up was a classical ELP one (keyboards, bass, drums). Instead there was an additional keyboard player who played the basslines on a piano, which worked out quite well.

The music was exactly like I had expected: flashy keyboards and tight drumming. The sound was excellent, even though I was standing quite close to the stage. I think there were about 60 people attending. Not much, but (alas) a normal figure for gigs like this.

The leader of the band, Keiko Kumagai, who is also responsible for most of the compositions, read some bits in English from a paper between songs. I didn't understand much of it but then I didn't know any song titles either, which makes it entirely my own fault! Introductions were made and when Kumagai said that the drummer, Akiko Takahashi, was only 21 years old I was astonished! Was this perhaps a hitherto unknown daughter of Phil Collins? I couldn't hear the name of the second keyboard player (I used to speak Japanese fluently a couple of years back but have neglected it dreadfully in recent years) and since she's new in the band I couldn't copy her name from the booklet of the new CD because she's not in there!

The gig was concluded with the exact same song that had brought me to Den Bosch: Morgan. It was an extended version and the highlight of the evening. After exactly one hour it was over. Sadly enough, there was no time for encores. Apparently there was a tight schedule to be held to.

After a short break Egdon Heath came on stage. Since they used the exact same instruments as Arsnova no much time was needed to prepare their equipment. After Arsnova's onslaught Egdon Heath sounded a bit flat in the beginning although I'm sure it wasn't flat at all! It was just that after hearing Arsnova's dynamic music Egdon Heath's more subdued music was a bit of a letdown. I really think they should have reversed the playing order. It would have worked out much better if Egdon Heath had played first.

Anyway, they opened with No Second Faust, a personal favourite of mine, which is not very strange considering it's the only song I have of them (it's on an SI sampler). I was gradually getting more into the gig as Arsnova's thunderous effect began wearing out. Egdon Heath played a couple of very good songs and their singer really is *very* good. He reaches heights that give me a sore throat of only thinking of trying to do the same! There also was much more interaction with the audience, although this could largely be "attributed" to a guy in the front row who thought himself very funny. Well, I can tell you he was not. I had seen this guy before at a couple of other gigs and he was as annoying then as he was now.

Egdon Heath came back for two encores. The last song was especially good (sorry, I don't know any songtitles!), very powerful, one of those songs where the whole band can put their heart into.

All in all I had a good evening. Arsnova was a revelation (I bought two CDs) and Egdon Heath was very enjoyable. But I still think they should have made Arsnova the headliner (OK, I'll shut up now!).

My thanks once again to Armand Simonis for playing for driver and to Martin Kikkert for being there and lending me some money to buy yet another shiny disc.


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