I must admit to not being the biggest fan of The Flower Kings' recorded output, largely due to the feeling that, although their best stuff is of a very high quality, the material as a whole would benefit from some judicious editing. Live it's a different matter, and I make the effort to catch the band whenever they play the UK, which happily is becoming a fairly regular occurrence. Tonight's crowd is probably the biggest I've seen for the band in London, despite (or perhaps because of) being only a few days after the Spock's Beard gig and a day before Camel's London farewell show. The band had presumably come to plug the new DVD, so no new song were in the offing, but that's hardly a problem when you've got as big a catalogue as this band, and plenty of people were trying to guess the set-list beforehand.
This time The Flower Kings had bought along a support act, fellow Swedes Ritual. I wasn't familiar with their music, but had been very impressed with vocalist Patrik Lundstrom's contribution to the recent Kaipa album. To tell you the truth, I was a bit disappointed with the band's performance; the material is far from complex, which is fine, but if you have simple songs you need decent melodies, and I didn't feel these were present - perhaps with the exception of the lightweight Moomin took my head, and a nice acoustic segment which saw the drummer playing an interesting-looking Swedish traditional instrument. What wasn't in doubt was Lundstrom's voice, which managed at least to keep the attention.
After a shortish wait, The Flower Kings' made a typically low-key entrance and then preceeded to tune up their instruments! Normally this would annoy me but this seems to be a regular FK trait and the soundchecking soon morphed into the opening section of the Unfold The Future track Devil's Playground. This is the first time I'd heard this live and it's a real tour de force, with all the band immediately hitting the ground running and the sound benefiting from the extra checking (although Jonas Reingold's bass was perhaps a bit low in the mix). The band are a six-piece on stage these days, with the extra 'all-rounder' skills of Pain of Salvation's Daniel Gildenlow - just in this first song he provided keys, guitar, extra percussion (courtesy of his own small percussion rig) and of course some fine backing vocals, and its clear the band's performance benefited from his skills.
Wild applause greeted the end of Devil's Playground and the crowd shouted out for a number of obscure tracks it was obvious the band wouldn't play, before Stolt, good-humouredly, cracked 'what do you think we are - a travelling karaoke machine?', to much laughter. In fact the band as a whole seemed in relaxed and light hearted mood which added to the enjoyment of the gig for everyone.
What we actually got next was a Back From The World Of Adventures number, My Cosmic Lover , a good choice as it has a strong, funky groove and provides a nice break from the prog epics that form the basis of the Flower Kings oeuvre.
Next up, Tomas Bodin got to plug his new Sonic Boulevard album with an extract although interestingly, as Stolt mentioned, the predominant instrument in this was not keyboards but the guitar, with Stolt playing some wonderful solos. This segued into the end chorus section of Church Of Your Heart with Hasse Froberg taking his turn to shine with a typically strong vocal performance.
Next up was an acoustic section - usually the cue for punters to go to the bar en masse, but not on this occasion - primarily because of the three-pronged vocal attack of Froberg, Stolt and Gildenlow; all have very different voices but contrast each other very well. We were treated to both Train To Nowhere and Ghost Of The Red Cloud in this stripped down format.
As the opening notes of the next number were played a big cheer went up; The Truth Will Set You Free may be a fairly recent addition the band's cannon but its quickly become a firm favourite, and the rendition here was as strong as you'd expect, Gildenlow once more adding power and depth to the symphonic sections and the big bombastic chorus, which also gave Froberg a chance to do those rock star poses he enjoys so much.
Following that would be hard for most bands but not if you're a band like The Flower Kings, who seem to have more epics to choose from than most bands have songs. This time they choose to unleash There Is More To This World, another strong track, although personally I'd have preferred The Road To Sanctuary or I Am The Sun as their respective parent albums (The Rainmaker and Space Revolver) were ignored today. This is really nit-picking though, and as the band left the stage the applause and cheering was verging on the hysterical. Stolt and cohorts soon appeared, wasting little time before polishing off another gem, this time The Flower King.
That was it - by Flower Kings standards a fairly short set (although for most bands two hours would be more than generous) but one brimming with quality, passion and energy. The band clearly enjoyed themselves, as did the crowd, and it shouldn't be long before the next visit - especially as the annual studio album must be due soon…