Reviews in this issue:
Pallas - The Blinding Darkness
DVD: Concert [136.11]: Intro (0.45), The Cross & The Crucible (8.11), For The Greater Glory (7.38), Who's To Blame (5.13), The Executioner / Rat Racing (11.03), Crown Of Thorns (10.12), Beat The Drum (8.57), Blood And Roses (6.00), The Blinding Darkness (7.20), Towers Of Babble (9.36), Midas Touch (9.44), Celebrations! (11.24)
Encores [44.27]: Intro (0.57), Rise And Fall Part 1 (6.15), East West (4.59), March On Atlantis (3.13), Atlantis (8.05), Cut And Run (7.11), The Ripper (13.42)
DVD Extras: Animated Menu, From The Centaurs Mouth (Interviews) (6.27), The Return of The Ripper (Documentary) (5.00), Picture Galleries
CD 1 [73.32]: The Cross & The Crucible (9.03), For The Greater Glory (7.42), Who's To Blame (4.47), The Executioner / Rat Racing (11.03), Crown Of Thorns (10.13), Beat The Drum (8.57), Blood And Roses (5.53), The Blinding Darkness (6.13), Towers Of Babble (9.39)
CD 2 [61.06]: Midas Touch (9.52), Celebrations! (10.26), Rise And Fall Part 1 (6.09), East West (5.00), March On Atlantis (3.13), Atlantis (8.05), Cut And Run (5.32), The Ripper (12.47)
For the first time in their 20 years of existence Pallas have recorded a live video. After the somewhat ill-received Live Our Lives they decided that this time it had to be done right. And so we have here a live recording with an exceptional sound quality, superb performances, a killer setlist which spans the entire career of the band (although the emphasis lies on their last studio album The Cross and The Crucible and especially for the recording of this DVD original singer Euan Lowson had been called out of retirement for the final encores.
The gig was recorded in De Boerderij, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands on September 7th 2002. The band had opened up all the registers to make this DVD shoot a successful one, with a large lightshow (including weird flame-type light effects), extra banners and a backdrop (which had been hand-created on the spot!) and the aforementioned guest appearance of Lowson.
However, as is good prog tradition: everything that could have gone wrong went wrong during the recording: The show had to be stopped three times due to keyboard failures. Kudos to director/editor Joachim Weider that none of this shows on the footage.
A nice touch is that Graeme Murray's rant about the dangers of becoming too dependent on technology is left in, although it may seem a bit out of place if you don't know what happened during the show - however there is a hilarious bit during which Alan Reed fixes a hole in his shoe with some gaffer tape (don't ask, you just have to see this).
One of the first things to note when watching the DVD footage is the incredible sharp images. I always figured that the best concert venue in Holland was the 013 in Tilburg. And seeing IQ, Spock's Beard and Transatlantic doing their DVD shoots there seemed to confirm this. However, all three of these concert videos suffered from the same lack of sharp lighting on stage, resulting in very dark images.
It could have something to do with the film crew (aforementioned bands all used the same crew, Pallas a different one) or because of the fact that the Boerderij venue is a lot smaller and therefore easier to light, but the images are razor sharp and full of contrast.
Add to that crisp clear 2.0 stereo and 5.1 surround tracks and you may well have the best live DVD of the year - and that coming from a relatively small band on a tight budget!
As said the setlist focuses on the Cross and the Crucible album though there is enough room for older tracks like Crown Of Thorns from their Arrive Alive album and of course their pinnacle, the 20-minute Atlantis Suite. Only The Wedge is a little under served with only a medley of The Executioner and Rat Racing.
What makes the DVD (and CD) really special is the one-off performance with original singer Euan Lowson back at the helm. The band warms him up with Cut and Run (off The Sentinel) before playing the one song that only Lowson can perform. For the first time in 18 years the band play the song which brought them their first media attention back in 1981: The Ripper. During this lurid performance Lowson wields a butcher's knife, sticks it in deep in his mouth, cuts himself (some of it is show, some of it for real) and finally acts as if cutting off his penis and throws blood, meat and who-knows-what-more into the audience. I guess this was one show where you wouldn't want to be in the front row...
It's a pity that the final encore, Arrive Alive, which had both Euan Lowson and Alan Reed sharing the vocals, has been left off the album. But in fact that is the only gripe I have about this album.
DVD extras include a nicely animated menu, two photo galleries (before and during the show) and two documentaries. These two short, very tongue-in-cheek docs alone are worth the price of the DVD. Great fun!
As with all live releases from Inside Out, the album is available as a double CD, a DVD, or a Limited Edition digipack which includes both DVD and CDs. Once again I can only recommend people to go for the Limited Edition. Not only does it look fantastic, the DVD also add a lot of extra value over just the CDs (and you can't play a DVD in your car after all, so you still need those).
Well it’s nearly two decades since Pallas came into my musical life, when a friend passed me a big slice of vinyl with the words The Sentinel inscribed upon the cover. Since then I’ve collected four other albums, a couple of EPs, a couple of gigs at the old Marquee in London and a gig in Rotherham courtesy of the Classic Rock Society, to make up my Pallas experience. Now add this, the band’s first ever DVD filmed before a crowd in Zoetermeer, Holland, last September.
The band and crew arrived at the venue a full day before the show - so as you can guess, the light show and set are a little more eye-catching than normal. The five cameras give a very sharp image and provide enough visual variety to maintain the viewer’s interest – the overhead camera for the drums offers a powerful perspective.
It shows that the band can more than meet the demands of their often-complex music in a live setting and the performances and the sound throughout are excellent. The main set is used mainly as a showcase for their most recent album. It is far more enjoyable than the performance I saw in Rotherham (although to be fair that was only the second time they’d played it). Elsewhere, the band shows off the full range of their repertoire; from the hard rock leanings of Executioner to the full prog workouts of The Cross and the Crucible and the Atlantis Suite.
Beat the Drum remains a personal favourite – and there’s a great performance of it here – but Tower of Babble stands out as a highlight, especially as it’s beefed considerably from the album version.
The two-hour set is split on the DVD into the main performance and the encores of the Atlantis Suite, Cut and Run and a very special version of The Ripper. For the final two tracks, original vocalist Euan Lowson has been coaxed out of retirement to add a bit of theatrical spice.
When he left the band in 1984, it was many years before he and the band even spoke to each other. Still with a devilish glint in his eye he shows he can still cut it, with a great version of Cut and Run. I never thought The Ripper was a particularly good song. It was always more Euan’s dramatic additions that made it a live favourite. But played here, by the band for the first time in almost 20 years, it proves an interesting ending. I won’t spoil the viewing by revealing exactly what happens – let’s just say I hope the front few rows had a coat on!
Overall, this is an impressively compiled package that fully captures the band’s live qualities plus a few added extras in the shape of an excellent photo gallery and two short documentary profiles that give a brief insight into the band themselves.
The only criticisms I can make are minor ones. For me, part of the fun of going to a live concert is – well - putting it honestly, people-watching. No-one goes to a gig and spends 100% of the time with their eyes glued to the stage. Feeding of the energy and reactions of other fans is a key part of the live experience. In terms of live videos, crowd shots offer a great way of breaking up the footage and enhancing the feeling that it is an event not just a music video. Therefore it always seems strange that so few live videos actually show the crowd at all. Here we get the odd glimpse but the opportunity is largely ignored.
As this is in part a retrospective look back at the band’s career, a short section with a few videos of gigs from earlier in their careers would have been a nice extra and completed the picture a bit more. Also, it is only three years since the release of the Live Our Lives 2CD live package. While that obviously didn’t have any of the …Crucible material on it, The Atlantis Suite and several others are repeated here. If you’re only willing/able to get the CD version of this live set, then some may baulk at two similar albums in such a relatively short time.
But as I said, those are minor points. This is a great little package, that as well as being an essential addition for any fan of the band, it would also be an excellent ‘Best of..’ introduction to someone who has yet to sample what the band has to offer.
There’s plenty of choice in the way it’s all packaged as The Blinding Darkness comes as either a double live CD; a DVD or as a combined double CD/DVD package. Make your choice and enjoy.
The Flower Kings - Meet The Flower Kings
DVD 1 [101.59]: The Truth Will Set You Free (31.20), On Tour In USA (4.23), Garden Of Dreams part 1 (26.46), On Tour In Europe (14.52), Garden Of Dreams part 2 (17.22), Setting Up For The DVD (7.16)
DVD 2 [99.55]: Humanizzimo (23.03), Oddballs Of Rehearsing (3.56), Circus Brimstone (11.14), In Recording Studio 2002 (10.00), Silent Inferno (16.03), On Tour In South America 2001 (9.14), Stardust We Are (26.25), Credits (1.18)
CD 1 [75.28]: The Truth Will Set You Free (31.20), Garden Of Dreams part 1 (26.46), Garden Of Dreams part 2 (17.22)
CD 2 [76.45]: Humanizzimo (23.03), Circus Brimstone (11.14), Silent Inferno (16.03), Stardust We Are (26.25)
"Meet The Flower Kings: On Stage Playing Their Epics; On Tour Around The World; In The Recording Studio"
In the now customary Inside Out package of either a double DVD, a double CD or a Limited Edition Digibook which includes both the DVDs and the CDs. Surely a prog-lover's dream come true! Though perhaps just a little over the top ...
In front of a select audience at the Uppsala Statsteater, on February 10th 2003, The Flower Kings performed a mere 7 tracks, which were recorded for this DVD/CD release. Those seven tracks together lasted over 150 minutes, as Roine Stolt & co had set out to perform all their biggest epics, ranging from the 11 minute improvisational Circus Brimstone to the 45 minute epic Garden Of Dreams (actually split in two).
The Flower Kings are one of the leading prog bands of the moment, no doubt about it. Roine Stolt is a class guitarplayer and a decent singer, and his compositions are both complex and accessible. In Jonas Reingold and Zoltan Czorsz the band has found one of the best rhythm sections imaginable, equally adept at jazzy, freaky stuff, as well as heavier rock styles. Tomas Bodin is a respected keyboard player all-round and Hans Froberg's rock-star antics make him the most watchable performer of the ensemble - and his singing's great too.
Especially for this DVD shoot one of the band's founding member Hasse Bruniusson joined the band once more on percussion, whistles, clown-nose and pretty much anything else you can get a sound out by hitting it. He looks as if he nowadays spends most his time in an asylum of some sort, clad in a medieval captain's uniform, sitting behind a preposterous percussion rig.
Joining the band especially for this gig is Daniel Gildenlow from Pain Of Salvation. After already proving to be a valuable addition to the Transatlantic live band, he now literally turns out to be a musical centipede, playing not only guitar, but also keyboards, percussion and providing a large chunk of the backing vocals.
Unfortunately these two special guests turn out to be the most interesting musicians on the visual front, and these are the two that appear the least on the footage - a pity.
Upon starting the DVD I was a little bit sceptical: the stage looked every bit like a late sixties TV studio with lots of empty space and a very white(ish) decor. The audience isn't visible nor audible and for that matter there isn't any live atmosphere to speak of. As the band starts the majestic The Truth Will Set You Free from their latest studio outing Unfold The Future the scene intercuts to two people starting a ballet - what the ....?!?
However, within five minutes into the song I was hooked! A great performance of this great track with an excellent soundquality. And it isn't just a recital from the studio version, on the contrary, some of the solos sound different, keyboard solos are changed and then there's the addition of the wealth of sounds that Bruniusson creates from his percussion rig.
Thirty minutes later I am roughly awoken from my state of ecstasy by some hand-held camera footage of the band arriving in the USA for a gig. All the songs on the DVD are alternated with behind-the-scenes footage of the band on tour and in the studio. This may be nice as extra features you watch once or twice, but not in the middle of your concert footage. And since pretty much nothing happens in these features (we see the band walk around San Francisco and Rio de Janeiro, climb the pyramids of Teotihuac.n in Mexico, swim in a swimming pool, do sound checks and rehearse in studios) they are actually quite boring! There is no voice over of any kind explaining what is going on, and most of the times when someone speaks, it is in Swedish. It can best be described as compulsory watching holiday movies from people you don't know.
And compulsory it is, because the biggest shortcoming of the DVD is that you can't flick to the next scene! This function is disabled, so you have no other option than to either watch the home-movies, or stop the show and go back to the main menu and then manually select the song you wish to hear. Worse even is that on the second DVD you can actually flick through the chapters - but only through the first four, after which you have to go back to the main menu to get to the last three chapters. Surely this can't have been intentional?
The concert footage itself is quite nice actually, even though The Flower Kings aren't the most animated band around. This is probably one of the reasons Stolt chose to include some non-concert shots in the footage. Some parts of the footage are intercut with images of people performing ballet, juggling and fire-eating, and, erm, a girl dancing with a banana... Then there's also numerous shots of the Swedish countryside. It goes without saying that Stolt is not only musically influenced by Yes...
The editing could have a little been better though. Nine out of ten times the cameras are not focussing on the artist who's playing a solo at the moment, especially where the guest performers are concerned - these guys are hardly ever in the picture. This is particularly noticable when Daniel Gildenlow has a great solo spot singing the choruses to Humanizzimo where you see pretty much everybody but him. Furthermore Hasse Bruniusson is the star of the opening of Circus Brimstone, opening all the registers behind his percussion rig, yet you can barely see what he is doing.
But the worst example is Stardust We Are, this song features about five or six keyboard solos, yet the only close-up of Tomas Bodin we get in those 26 minutes is at a moment when he's barely playing! Instead, we do get lengthy close-ups of Roine Stolt's shoulder and there are lots of swooping crane shots, which -due to the wide angle used- result in very odd-looking people on stage, with big heads and small feet.
Musically, there is nothing wrong with this release. Excellent soundquality, excellent performance and an excellent setlist with pretty much the best Flower Kings tracks around (although instead of Circus Brimstone and Silent Inferno I personally would have preferred tracks like I Am The Sun and Last Minute On Earth, in order to cover more albums - seven tracks from five albums out of a nine album discography is a bit selective...)
However, I'm not entirely convinced of the added value of the DVD. There is no 5.1 surround mix, no animated menus and the fifty minutes of bonus footage is more irritating than interesting because of the way they are incorporated in between the concert footage. Of course it is fantastic to see the band play (despite the lack of live feeling) but the fact that you can't watch the concert footage in one go is a definite shortcoming.
Unlike previous Inside Out Live Releases I rate the DVD and the CD separate from each other. The CD deserves a place in everybody's CD collection, yet the DVD is a matter strictly for fans only. A missed opportunity!
DVD: 7+ out of 10
CD: 8.5 out of 10
Family - A Retrospective
In 2003 the re-issue of the five Family albums released between 1970 and 1973 represents a great opportunity to re-evaluate this fine English band over their most innovative period. Released by Mystic Records with the full collaboration of Roger Chapman, possessor of one of the most distinctive voices in rock history, the albums are enhanced by a multitude of bonus cuts culled from the extensive archives of said vocalist. To round off the studio album remasters, Mystic have also pulled together a long-awaited live album culled from concerts recorded on their November 1971 UK tour.
Family released their first two albums, Music In A Doll's House and Family Entertainment (currently available on Puka Records) at the tail end of the 1960's. On these first efforts the band comprised of Roger Chapman (vocals and harmonica), Charlie Whitney (guitar), Rob Townsend (drums and percussion), Jim King (sax and keyboards) and Ric Grech (bass and violin) and had a more psychedelic edge, although classical, folk, country and more direct rock influences could be found within the grooves, particularly on the second album.
This latest series of reissues starts with the third album A Song For Me (8/10), originally released in 1970. Ric Grech had been lured into the Eric Clapton / Steve Winwood supergroup Blind Faith and was replaced by John Wieder (bass, violin) and, more importantly for the sound of the band, Poli Palmer (vibes and flute) had replaced Jim King. For the first time the band produced themselves resulting in a more experimental sound with greater room for improvisation. The results were stunning, with opening track Drowned In Wine epitomising the uncompromising attitude the band were possessed with. Highlights include Charlie Whitney's beautiful acoustic guitar work on Some Poor Soul, the boogie of The Cat And The Rat and the excellent title track which emphasises the progressive route the band were beginning to adopt. Bonus tracks on the album include the hard-to-find single No Mule's Fool / Good Friend Of Mine, which predated the album's release by some three months, and four live versions of tracks from the album. Notable amongst these is a version of Wheels recorded with Jim King and a version of A Song For Me that takes the piece to another level.
Anyway (7/10), from late 1970, was a half live, half studio release. The four live tracks, all brand new, were recorded with minimal rehearsal at Croydon's Fairfield Hall with the recording gear being set up as the audience began to enter the hall! Considering the circumstances, the results are pretty good, Good News - Bad News in particular providing a fine opening cut. However, the rather gentler Willow Tree suffers most from lack of rehearsal and less than perfect recording. The studio material demonstrates the advances the band had made playing and performing together. The classic life on the road tale Part Of The Load has an interesting groove which really comes into its own on the bonus live cut where the band extend the piece to almost twice its original length, Charlie Whitney contributing a couple of fine guitar solos. The instrumental Normans gives everyone a spot in the limelight while Lives And Ladies has a more pastoral feel which twists and turns around the anti-war narrative. Again, a great live version of this track is included as a bonus cut. The third bonus track, a second live version of Strange Band is, I feel, rather superfluous and it would have been better replaced by the original single version.
By Summer 1971 John Wieder had grown tired of playing bass and decided to join Stud for whom he played just about everything except bass! His replacement was a young John Wetton fresh from the inspiring, if commercially unsuccessful, Mogul Thrash. The lineup change resulted in a harder edge to the band - the dual Whitney / Weider acoustic guitars that had dominated Anyway were out, as was a lot of the experimentation and improvisation. The new album, Fearless (9/10), released in October 1971 with a single, In My Own Time / Seasons (both included as bonus tracks) appearing a few months earlier. Both album and single reached the top 10 in the UK charts giving the band their greatest commercial success. The strength of the album lies in the stronger song structures and arrangements, particularly evident on the simply marvellous Spanish Tide which, like the following track, Save Some For Thee, sees vocals being shared between Chapman and Wetton. Poli Palmer was also developing as a writer, co-writing two pieces with Chapman / Whitney (who wrote most of Family's material) and contributing a couple of solo compositions - Crinkley Grin, a jazz rock instrumental reminiscent of Hatfield And The North, and the faux-barbershop quartet Larf And Sing, whose vocal arrangement must surely have given an early 10cc some ideas. The rest of the album is just as inspired / inspiring, the lovely acoustic Children, the ethereal Burning Your Bridges and the honky tonk pianos (accompanied by a tuba!) on Sat'd'y Barfly. Two further bonus tracks are live versions of album opener Between Blue And Me and J.B. Lenoir's Blues number Sing 'Em The Way I Feel.
1972's Bandstand (8/10) was a more straight forward rock release lacking a lot of the eclectism displayed on previous albums. Yes there were a couple of more acoustic numbers, the lovely My Friend The Sun and the early Traffic sound alike Dark Eyes. The heavier sound is epitomised by Broken Nose a hard rocking song that has guest singer Linda Lewis wailing away with Chapman on the chorus. Burlesque, possibly the band's most famous song and another hit single, maintains the fine tradition of exceptionally strong opening numbers, while Bolero Babe is the most experimental track on the album, featuring swirling synths, backwards tapes and, for once, a restrained Roger Chapman vocal. The standout track though, is the album closer, Top Of The Hill. A slow burning piece the track displays a wide sense of dynamics, helped along the way by a 20-piece orchestra. Although the four bonus tracks are contemporaneous with the album, only The Rocking Rs, the b-side of the Burlesque single, is contemporary song writing. The three live tracks are versions of No Mule's Fool (distinguishable from the studio version by the original violin part being replaced by acoustic guitar), Good News - Bad News and The Weaver's Answer. However, the live performances exemplify the power of the band on stage and underline the other side of a band that could be more refined and considered when in a studio setting.
Although Bandstand was a commercial and critical success in the UK, it failed to break in the US, despite a well-received tour supporting Elton John, a big fan of the group. Consequently, John Wetton was soon lured into the ranks of King Crimson and his departure was soon followed by Poli Palmer who had decided to form a new group with ex band mate Ric Grech. Their replacements were another ex Blossom Toes member, and more recently a refugee from Stud, guitarist Jim Creegan (employed as the bassist) and pianist Tony Ashton. Following the departure of Wetton and Palmer, a second single from Bandstand had been released to complete audience indifference.
Thinking that they were stuck in a rut and sounded rather dated, the new line up took a different approach, simplifying their sound and adopting a more loose R&B approach on what turned out to be the final album It's Only A Movie (6/10). First fruits, the single Boom Bang was also a flop, which is not surprising as it lacks a sense of direction or identifiable hook line. More impressive are Buffet Tea For Two and the title track, both of which maintain the adventurous nature of previous albums. Of the other tracks, Leroy is too countrified for my taste, too much emphasis is placed on the horns in Suspicion and Sweet Desiree, and Boots 'N' Roots is sleazy New Orleans jazz and as untypical a track as any in the Family catalogue. However, things come to a fine close with the ironically titled Check Out that successfully blends the sound of Family throughout the ages. The five bonus tracks all stem from the early days of the band. Hometown, the b-side of Second Generation Woman from Family Entertainment, is a wonderful acoustic piece with prominent vibes, acoustic guitar and delicate vocals that only serves to underline the gap between what had gone before. The four live tracks also date back to earlier days Dim, The Weaver's Answer and Processions (which is linked with No Mule's Fool) all originally appearing on the second album. An impassioned and radically rearranged Holding The Compass rounds off the extras on this somewhat disappointing (if only in terms of what has gone before) final studio album.
Mystic Records have come up trumps with this excellent group of re-issues. Packed full of bonus tracks, contemporary photographs, lyrics and comprehensive liner notes, this series has been lovingly assembled and presents the band in all their glory. They pushed the boat out further with the Family Live (7/10) album. Recorded by the most successful line up following the release of the groundbreaking Fearless, Live is an excellent mixture of classic tracks such as Part Of The Load, Drowned In Wine and an extended The Weaver's Answer and highlights from the newly recorded album. Spanish Tide maintains all the glory of the studio cut, even with rearranged instrumentation, Children proves that the group could effectively reproduce the acoustic material on stage while the hit In My Own Time is given a slightly rougher edge. Live is a great addition to the Family catalogue, which begs the question how much more great material is dwelling in Mr Chapman's library?
Overall, a highly recommended series of releases from an important, although sadly overlooked, band of idiosyncratic musicians. Fans will delight in revisiting these albums in a digital format and, hopefully, their wider availability will entice a host of newcomers into the fold as well.
A Song For Me - 8 out of 10
Anyway - 7 out of 10
Fearless - 9 out of 10
Bandstand - 8 out of 10
It's Only a Movie - 6 out of 10
Family Live - 7 out of 10