US Prog Rock heroes offer up a gig of the year contender on opening night of a 5 show UK tour and Donnie was there to witness it.
For every rock fan there is always something different, and let’s face it a little bit special, about seeing a truly great band in a relatively small venue. Imagine The Rolling Stones down your local pub or Iron Maiden in a Village Hall. Of course, the Rescue Rooms in Nottingham has played host to many great bands and artists over the years. Once such great band, that doesn’t play the big arenas or stadiums like The Stones or Maiden, is American Progressive rock heroes Spock’s Beard.
Now by rights this band should be massive. Up there with bands like Rush, Genesis, Yes et al. Instead their brilliant brand of intensely melodic prog rock started a few years past the progressive rock heyday. Be in no doubt that if the brothers Morse had formed this band in the early 1970’s they would have been stadium headliners the world over. Such is life though and the band find themselves in one of East Midlands less-salubrious but most iconic venues for the first show of the UK leg of their European tour in support of the astonishing ‘The Oblivion Particle” album, a dead cert contender for Album Of The Year in the MV offices, which came out in August.
By the time Maximum Volume had got to the venue London-based proggers Synaesthesia were on stage keeping the hordes happy with their brand of alternative experimental prog. Classic Rock magazine tipped them for big things last year and it appears they are on the right trajectory.
Having a new and very exciting band opening for you might be considered a risk for many headliners but Spock’s Beard have seen it and done it all many times over in their twenty year history.
“Tides of Time” kicks thing off in majestic fashion. The barely restrained power of the opener is fully released in the live environment. Soaring melodies backed by thunderous drums all carried along in a maelstrom of weaving guitar and keyboards. “On a Perfect Day” quickly follows and again the mix of power, precision and melody that stands Spock’s Beard above the rest is evident. The power is briefly interrupted by a beautiful duelling acoustic interplay between vocalist/guitarist Ted Leonard and Alan Morse.
It’s not long into proceedings that Ted enquires of the 200 or so audience members if they own the new album. A resounding “Yes” cuts through the smokey venue. Asked if they understood what it meant, the response was an equally resounding “No”. Never mind, it turns out that Ted wasn’t overly sure either. So……..on with the show.
“Minion” is a stand out track from said album and whilst the frontman may not fully understand it it doesn’t prevent him from delivering a stellar vocal performance through the ebb and flow of powerhouse bombast and interstellar keyboard wizardry from Ryo Okumoto. So too Alan Morse’s considerable finger-flicking six string skills shine briefly during the short solo.
The band have 12 albums worth of material from which to pillage but it’s the latter day tracks that form the bulk of the set and when they pull out a track like “Afterthoughts” from the Brief Nocturnes… album with it’s twisted and soaring harmonies giving way to crushing riffs and wall shaking tempo.
Bass player extraordinaire Dave Meros and Ryo depart the stage momentarily for an part acoustic rendition of “June”. Cue mass singalong led by drummer Jimmy Keegan temporaily relieved of his tub-thumping duties to lead the audience participation. It’s perfectly in keeping with the jovial and warm atmosphere created by the band. Ryo and Dave return for an uplifting finale to this classic track.
Prior to “Waiting For Me” we are treated to intros various of many a classic rock tune and all for the art of ad-libbing. It’s turning into that sort of evening. As a main set closer it veers on the high energy hard rock side of prog before lilting into a Pink Floyd-ian cinematic landscape. Perfect in other words.
A truly superb, and somewhat surprising, acoustic version of “Bennett Built A Time Machine” sung by Jimmy is a highlight. Not an original set list choice by the band but popular demand from fans during the European tour means a shortened twin guitar version is provided tonight and it’s an absolute belter.