November 15th, 2005
Marquee, London, UK
Photos by Malcolm Birkett
A bit of a nostalgia fest this evening, as it was 40 years since The Syn last played London's famous Marquee supporting none other than Jimi Hendrix. This is the latest incarnation of the venue, not the original which was located in Wardour Street, but apart from being a maze of stairs and corridors and having some slightly odd toilet arrangements, the actual stage and auditorium are pretty decent for a club-sized venue.
I was here this evening by the good grace of my friend George Roldan, who runs the Prog4you website and also organises the Rites Of Spring 3 day prog festival that takes place every year in Philadelphia - obviously George could not attend, so he arranged for me to go in his place on a VIP pass. Quite an honour and a privilege, as this gave me access to the VIP area in the balcony, and also an invitation to a meet-and-greet in the upstairs private bar after the gig.
However, as it turns out some friends of mine also went to the gig, so I decided to sit downstairs with them instead, especially as we found a centrally located table near the stage with some high stools, which afforded us a great view of the band.
I had not previously heard any Syn material, so got myself a copy of the Syndestructible album a week or so before and had been listening to it fairly regularly, and it had certainly started to grow on me. I like the slightly psychedelic flavour to it, and in a curious way I found some of it harked back not just to early Yes, but also early Genesis.
Once we were settled in, we were a little surprised to see a support band on stage, as none had been previously advertised. Alien Sushi were a frighteningly young bunch of lads (especially considering the average age of the crowd), who were certainly extremely nervous, with this possibly being one of their first gigs. Though they did well, they seemed a slightly inappropriate support band considering the style of music the headliners would be playing, as theirs was a sort of proto-typical indie rock. And they did have some very enthusiastic female supporters in the crowd - their mums, possibly?
After a short break, Syn arrived on stage to the strains of the album opening accapella track Breaking Down Walls, and proceeded to continue chronologically with Some Time, Some Way/Reach Outro. First impressions were that sound was generally good, but lead vocals seemed a little low to me (which I also noticed with the support band), and keyboards also seemed further back in the mix than I would have liked. I guess it's kind of a general problem with small-ish club type venues, drums can seem overpowering and you can lose some of the subtlety of the music with certain instruments being drowned out. But it was certainly not enough of a distraction to spoil the enjoyment, and after a little tweaking on the first few songs by the sound people it did improve considerably.
Initially vocalist Steve Nardelli did look a little uncomfortable and seemed somewhat formally dressed, but I guess after not playing live for a long time that's to be expected. However, after a few songs under their belt and a bit of banter with the audience, he took his jacket off and looked much more relaxed.
And indeed this was a very relaxed and laid back affair - Chris was in good spirits and indulging in a lot of on stage jokiness with the rest of the band, and it's also a testament to his professionalism that he made no attempt to take the limelight away from any other members of the band - he may be one of the worlds most renowned bass players, but tonight he was very much a band member, no solo's but just some darn fine bass playing. I personally am not a huge fan of solos, I maintain that excellent musicianship comes out through the songs. And that was certainly the case here, with powerhouse drummer Jeremy Stacey matching Chris superb bass to provide a rock solid rhythm section, Paul Stacey on guitar concentrating on interesting chord structures rather than showy soloing, and keyboard player Gerard Johnson providing some terrific, colourful textures to the songs.
Cathedral Of Love, which is one of my faves from the album, really showcases Steve's vocals to great effect. An epic though never too indulgent song, it always seems to remind me a little of Starship Trooper in that wonderful "Spring and summer" section.
Up next were a couple of older songs, the wonderfully trippy Flowerman being a standout for me.
City Of Dreams from the new album is a bit of a driving rocker initially, but takes an interesting turn with the "Get up, get out" section midway through - this was certainly a crowd favorite and had a lot of us singing in unison.
A couple of new tracks (presumably to be included on a future Syn album) were showcased next. Unfortunately I missed most of the first one 21st Century, having got lost on my trek to find the toilets and ending up in a few dead-end passageways. Other new track Silent Revolution did not make really make an impact on me, but then it's really not fair to judge properly on just one listen.
Last track of the main set was the epic, anthemic The Promise. The instrumental mid-section really gave Chris and the rest of the band a chance to shine. It also has a great sing along quality to it, with it's "Breaking Down Walls For Freedom" refrain that the audience joined in with to bring the set to a rousing climax.
For the encore, the good-time, Stones flavoured Golden Age - a great foot-stomper this one which had a lot of the audience on their feet at the front of the stage and everyone just having a hell of a good time, both onstage and off. There was something wonderfully iconic about seeing Chris on stage framed by that historic Marquee sign, truly a unique sight.
Unfortunately, work commitments next day meant I did not have time to go to the VIP bar afterwards.
No matter, I came for the music, and brilliantly performed music was indeed what we got - no question. And for those of you who could not make the gig fear not, as it was all recorded and filmed for a future live CD and DVD release.
Breaking Down Walls
Some Time, Some Way
Cathedral Of Love
City Of Dreams