The Flower Kings, 18 November 2002
The Renfrew Ferry, Glasgow, Scotland

By John Stout


Having been into the band for over two years, my first taste of them live was a long time coming, but on the basis of this gig, itís been worth the wait. I used to read the live reviews with envy, and wondered if the band could really be this good live, but now I can honestly say, yes they are.

The Renfrew Ferry is a wonderful little venue Ė an old boat moored on the River Clyde, with friendly staff (ie they welcome you at bar, no drink asked for is too much trouble, and they encourage you to take your time to sup up even though the venue is closing for the night!), and excellent sight lines. The band play on the lower deck, where you can either choose to sit or stand up at the front (one enterprising old bloke even managed both), or you can sit on the upper deck which is effectively a balcony, but one that is actually only an armís stretch above the band. This meant that we could clearly see every key and chord the band played, not to mention the little in-jokes shared between the players throughout the set.

As we arrived to hear the soundcheck, even as I stood on the gangplank in the freezing cold, I had a gut feeling this was going to be a good night, and the cheery welcome from Hasse Froberg as he wandered back to the tour bus after the soundcheck made the cold wait seem easier.

In fact, if there was one thing which made this gig stand out for me, it was the warmth of band and audience, each playing off the other. Roine Stolt seemed a little awkward at first, struggling to follow the local Glaswegian dialect, but gradually it was smiles all around as it became apparent that the audience were grateful to the band for coming this far north and wanted to make them feel at home.

It also says a lot about the bandís confidence in their new album, given that they played so much of it in a set lasting just under three hours. Opening with the lengthy The Truth Will Set You Free, the band just seemed to hit the ground running, and itís easy to see why this song is already proving to be a firm favourite. Itís one of those songs which just grows and grows on you, and it hardly seems like 30 minutes have gone and you want the song to keep on going.

I loved the songís intertwining melodies, and although Roine was occasionally grimacing at the odd glitch, on the whole the sound was fine and allowed each of the instruments to shine through. I donít think Iíve ever heard mellotron samples sounding so rich and full, and although temporary member Daniel Gildenlow was confined to a corner in the back, you could clearly hear his guitar and keyboard contributions which added colour and substance to the sound.

Another reason that the longer songs passed so quickly was that with such a clear view from the balcony, there was so much to see as each of the six performers grabbed your interest at varying points in the songs, playing an impressive array of instruments between them.

Road to Sanctuary had never really impressed me that much as a studio track, but live it seemed to take on a life of its own, and gave Hasse Froberg a chance to show off his rock tonsils Ė quite a feat to make himself heard above the rest of the band, but his voice soared on tracks like this, and his all round showmanship helped to give a focus for the audience as the rest of the band tended to focus more on their playing.

It all came together in spectacular fashion with Humanizzimo, from Stoltís solo album. Iíd hurriedly listened to this track the day before the gig, as I was not very familiar with it, and I found new depth and melody that I hadnít picked up before. However, live, this turned out to be one the best moments of the set, and a bit of a surprise inclusion. Tomas Bodin managed to successfully recreate the saxophone accompaniment via his samples, weaving the theme in and around the guitar parts, and the vocal section in the middle of the song was mesmerising, with Danielís singing rising in volume until he let rip with a fantastic scream. The lengthy arrangement also allowed Roine freedom to branch out and perform a nicely improvised guitar solo.

This was an inspired choice of song to close the first set, but it also meant that the band were at a slight disadvantage in trying to regain that emotional high the second set, and new tracks like Rolliní The Dice and Genie In A Bottle didnít really cut it for me. There was nothing particularly wrong with them, and I enjoyed Danielís lead vocals on the former song, but they couldnít live up the vibes of the earlier songs.

However, Chicken Farmer Song brought some more overt humour to the proceedings, and this was another song which I realised I had under-rated on the Space Revolver album. The vocal harmonies were wonderful and the catchy melodies were a nice break from the heavier and more demanding songs that had come earlier.

Tomas Bodin then got a chance to show why he is such a highly rated keyboardsman, leading the band into the instrumental section of Black and White, and the combined drumming of Hasse, Daniel and new boy Zoltan Csorsz mid-song was dramatic and powerful. This lead nicely into Silent Inferno which rocked like there was no tomorrow.

The truncated version of I Am The Sun closed the second set, and with the combined guitars of Roine, Hasse and Daniel, the main riff has never sounded so heavy. This was another song that I just wanted to go on and on, but all good thingsÖÖ

After such a long set, you could have forgiven the band for calling it a night, but they had been clearly enjoying themselves Ė at one point I could swear I saw Roine smile! Ė so we were treated to an encore of Eyes Of The World, that picked up the pace. By now I was on my feet grooving for all I was worth, and at one point as Hasse was throwing his rock star shapes he looked up and we caught each otherís grins of delight Ė Iím not sure whose smile was wider, mine or his, but it was one of those magical moments when performer and punter share a fleeting synchronicity and it made my night.

The song then moved in to a snatch of Circus Brimstone before ending up in something of muddled sounding jam, and then all of a sudden it was over. It seemed a bit abrupt, and I wondered afterwards if the audience would have got another song if theyíd shouted enough. But, as it was, the crowd were probably flagging by now, and with the time at well after midnight you could hardly gripe about the length or the quality of the set weíd just witnessed.

As the final icing on the cake, as we were on our way out, we bumped into Tomas, who took the time to have a brief chat and shake hands, and it seemed like the band had enjoyed the gig. Hopefully they will spread the word and weíll see more prog bands coming this way in future.

But for now Iím content with the buzz and the memories of this particular gig, and for those of you still deciding whether to see the band, my advice is go for it!

Setlist:

The Truth Will Set You Free
Monkey Business
Road To Sanctuary
Vox Humana
Jonas Reingold bass solo
Humanizzimo

Rolling the Dice
Genie In A Bottle
Chicken Farmer Song
Tomas Bodin keyboard solo
Black and White (instrumental section)
Silent Inferno
I Am The Sun

Eyes of the World / Circus Brimstone

 

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