Gig review: THE ENID – Union Chapel, London, 31 March 2015

Union chapel is already brim full of fans sat on the lines of wooden pews, making polite conversation when I arrive half an hour before the gig. Such is the anticipation of The Enid’s dedicated crowd of followers. I only wandered in early to use the facilities and grab a mug of coffee. I have not been to this venue for years and it has lost none if its splendour and charm… outside loos excepted.

The Enid’s pioneering symphonic rock has had a bit of a makeover in the last few years. Formed by Robert John Godfrey after a stint with Barclay James Harvest back in the mid-70’s, the band’s early albums were often purely instrumental constructions. It was not until Joe Payne joined in 2010 that the band had their first formal permanent vocalist.

A new generation of talented, ambitious musicians have provided a stable basis from which to build Godfrey’s legacy and recent albums have shown an assured crossover touch. Nevertheless, staging this Bridge Tour was a risk, even by the band’s own admission.

In a departure from earlier live work, this was a precisely choreographed performance designed to stimulate through multi-media. Part theatre, part cinema, part rock ‘n’ roll, part classical recital. And played out to a seated audience with whom the band did not communicate verbally all night.

The tone was set right from the start with ‘Land of Hope and Glory’ projecting vividly in sound and vision depicting an ‘Enidland’ vaguely suggestive of an Orwellian distortion.

As the synth strings die away, Joe Payne makes a measured, deliberate appearance on stage. This rendition of ‘One and the Many’ perfectly encapsulated the rock operatic quality of this show.

Initially singing in a bleak almost painful operatic falsetto, Payne suddenly drops to a mid-range, more accessible delivery whilst also unhooding his shrouded head; all synced perfectly with the giant LED screen flicking from stark b&w to high vis technicolour. On such moments performances are built. The song is completed with a dizzying arc of music powered by visceral percussion.

The way the band is set up provides a clue that this is no ordinary prog jolly: two drum and percussion kits either side of the screen, two guitarists, one doubling on keys, another keyboard player (Godfrey himself), an electronic wind instrument on a stand stage right and an absence any traditional bass guitar.

That double percussion sound really comes to the fore on ‘Terra Firma’ where it moves from providing a complex rhythm background to smoothly becoming the focus of the entire delivery.

Only Payne moves though. Whilst the band knuckle down to create textures and moods, sometimes reminiscent of Floyd, Payne is interpreting every nuance through dance, gesture, pose and tone. Aided by the LED screen’s visual battering ram.

‘Earthborn’ with its crunching guitar undertones is played out beneath flickering images of talking heads. ‘Witch Hunt’ features some disturbing imagery from the 2011 Summer riots over Payne’s insisted repeated phrases ‘…are you who you say you are…?

More intense guitars allied to sweeping orchestral passages, bring ‘Dark Hydraulic’ and Act I to a close.

The Union Chapel is a wonderful venue. There is even ice cream to be bought from the ushers at the interval. As I’m gazing on The Enid’s vaguely hallucinogenic projections of swirling colour filling the walls, pillars and recesses, I’m thinking it’s the strangest panto I’ve ever been to…

You want a bit more drama? Act Two begins with ‘Wings’ and sees Payne prone on top of the piano, rising slowly to take the light fully and cast his shadow onto the screen in a clever merging of live and digital performance. Compelling stuff, no doubt at all.

‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ elicits the strongest audience reaction so far, and the audio narrates a new twist on the original story of nuclear holocaust by portraying the persecution of musicians.

The climax of the show comes with a trio of emotion-drenched performances in the shape of ‘Leviticus’, ‘Someone Shall Rise’ and ‘Judgement’, all from recent albums ‘Journey’s End and ‘Invicta’. Stunning musicianship, haunting melodies, powerchording and spiralling guitars bouncing off each other. And all the time, Payne is weaving a story stage centre, his every hand and head movement echoed by the singer’s image in the video behind him shot in a post apocalyptic landscape. Powerful stuff.

Set closer ‘Shiva’ seems almost quirky and frivolous by comparison; and in the scheme of things is an odd choice to end with.

Without ever leaving the stage, the band encore with ‘Mockingbird’ from the early days. They leave to a standing ovation, and although tey hug, bow and wave, still not a word is exchanged with the audience. Maintaing the performance to the end.

Chatting to a fan in the portaloo afterwards, it’s clear not everyone loves the new format. It’s all “crescendo after crescendo”, he said. “It gets a bit much. And I liked it when they had a bit of banter with us.” Fair comment, but you can’t have it all. For me, and the majority of punters tonight, this was a triumph of scope, interpretation and imagination.  Brave and bold.

Review by Dave Atkinson

David Randall plays a selection of new and classic rock in his weekly show first broadcast 14 June 2020 including reference to the Feature series “2020 Vision”.

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