Saturday 11th May
The Celebr8.2 festival was back for its second year having moved from July to May. It has an ideal venue in the Hippodrome with its suitably sci fi décor and the location right in the centre of Kingston. As my friend remarked it is very strange to see so many bouncers at a prog gig, although Saturday night has a strict 9:30pm curfew as the young ‘uns take over and it reverts to a nightclub.
To the music…US band District 97 were making their UK debut and after enjoying their recent album ‘Trouble With Machines’. A strange combo as the band are fronted by an American Idol finalist Leslie Hunt.
If hearing the band for the first time they may put some off as they have many musical ideas in each song, although the accessible vocals of Leslie Hunt keep the band on a melodic path.
Highlights included ‘The Prefect Young Man’ and possibly their most instant song, ‘Open Your Eyes’. They did a King Crimson cover too, ‘The Great Deceiver’ as they had John Wetton guest on their album and after this gig they were off into Europe supporting John Wetton. This band have a bright future ahead of them and they need to keep Leslie Hunt as her vocals help top the fine musicianship backing her.
Next up Frost* whose set last December co-headlining with It Bites I thoroughly enjoyed. Jem Godfrey had broken his finger in a gardening accident so he relied heavily on pre-recorded parts, although fair play to him as he played as many keyboard parts as he could.
It was a stunning set, sprinkled with the humorous interludes from Jem Godfrey. New songs on display included ‘Heartstrings’ and the gentle ‘Lantern’ – Jem Godfrey is the vocal star on this one. Bodes well for the upcoming album.
Of the older songs we had a raucous run through the instrumental ‘Hyperventilate’ with the rhythm section of Nathan King and Craig Blundell almost metal like in their pounding rhythms.
Guitarist John Mitchell was putting in the first of his two appearances over the weekend and seemed to be enjoying the gig, along with playing some tasty solos. ‘Snowman’ got an interesting overhaul (the keyboards sounded different somehow) and ending with the rousing ‘The Other Me’ ended an amazing set from the band.
Threshold did put in the performance of the weekend for me. From the off the band were on form and in frontman Damian Wilson you have someone who gets even the neutrals in the crowd on the band’s side. This is doubtless helped by his wanderings through the crowd and thanking fans.
Good mix of new and classic songs in the set with the stand outs for me being ‘Don’t Look Down’, the ballad moment in ‘Pilot in the Sky of Dreams’ and ‘The Rubicon’. Pete Morten has certainly come into his own in the band and his soloing was top notch and no sound issues which plagued his appearance at the Underworld gig.It is no mean feat given that Karl Groom is the other guitarist in the band!
Encores were ‘Light and Space’ and ‘Slipstream’, one of their more commercial songs that could win them fans outside of the prog metal genre. Threshold had the audience on their side from the off and they are at the top of their game, both on album and playing live.
Mission Profile/Don’t Look Down/Hollow/Coda/Part of the Chaos/Colophon/Pilot in the Sky of Dreams/Ashes/Angels/Staring at the Sun/Long Way Home/The Rubicon Encore: Light and Space/ Slipstream
Sunday 12th May
Back again for more! Made it in time to see local band Haken who generally impressed, although one gripe was I couldn’t really hear the vocals over the rest of the band. Musically they have the prog metal leanings of say Threshold and bizarrely some of their quieter parts and the vocals, reminded more of a melodic rock band like Journey. I would definitely go to see them play again and the keyboards/guitar interplay was impressive.
Off to the acoustic stage to see former Tinyfish member Simon Godfrey who had pulled a decent sized crowd. He has a good vocal, although I have never got into Tinyfish like their loyal followers have. It all got a bit to bizarre for me when he started strumming Sabbath riffs and talking about an evil duck…
Mystery were making their UK debut, although vocalist Benoit David has trod the boards in the UK with Yes a couple of years ago. What a way to start a show with ‘As I Am’, one of my favourite songs and a real goose bumps/spine-tingling moment.
I was wondering if they could top that but they did and the set, despite a few sound issues, was excellent throughout. Another stand out was ‘Dear Someone’, David’s vocals sitting neatly on top of the music. They sailed effortlessly though the epic ‘Through Different Eyes’ and for a band that most probably doesn’t play live that much they were extremely tight and the music seemed to flow effortlessly.
Guitarist and mainman Michel St-Pere and his guitar solos are a key driver in the band’s sound, never too ‘showy’ and they fit the music like a glove. Given the rousing reception they got from the crowd I’d guess they will try and return to the UK as soon as possible.
Arena were late taking to the stage due to the evening over running and had to trim their set to just over an hour. Still, vocalist Paul Manzi was amazing, no other word for it. His vocal range is astounding as he did the call and response with the crowd on ‘Crying For Help’, ending with a metal scream that no-one in the crowd dared even attempt!
He impressed me on their recent album ‘The Seventh Degree of Separation’ and he can more than replicate his studio performance live. ‘The Great Escape’ and ‘Rapture’ were highlights for me, along with the opener ‘The Last Escape’. Left feeling slightly disappointed as they had to drop a fair bit of their set and it meant very few older songs were played.
Many prog festivals and yours are being cancelled/downsized so do get out and support them as the organisers work so hard to get these events off the ground and being indoors it’s mud free.
Big note of thanks to Jon Patrick, Geoff Banks and all the people who work tirelessly to make this such a friendly and enjoyable event. Get along next year for some more progressive musical delights.
Review by Jason Ritchie
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