Gig review: THE ANSWER – Engine Rooms, Southampton, 2 March 2017

THE ANSWER – Engine Rooms, Southampton, 2 March 2017

This was the fourth date of the band’s short ‘In This Land’ tour, visiting most corners of the UK. The Southampton corner turned out to be a modern, exposed-pipework warehouse of a venue on the wharf road just round the corner from where the Titanic cast off.

I eyed the cavernous, metal-sheeted interior warily, but there was no need for worry. The Answer filled the tricky space with a rich, full sound of comforting, wholesome riffs, laced with airy Celtic, folk and acoustic moments.

Set opener ‘Solas’, title track from the new album, combined all those influences into an anthemic and powerful statement of soaring vocals and cascading guitar. Frontman Cormac Neeson holding nothing back.

By contrast, ‘Never Too Late’ that followed immediately was a bone-shaking rocker, culled from the band’s 10 year old album ‘Rise’.

This set the tone for the gig. ‘Solas’ is such a lyrical and tonal departure from the band’s earlier five albums comprising hard driving classic rock with a touch of prog, that it was always going to make a live show interesting. For my money, the more diverse material made for a cracking night.

I confess to being a fan of ‘Solas’ – meaning ‘light’ in Gaelic and this Northern Irish band were well in touch with their Celtic roots in this show. Eight of the 15 tracks came from the new collection.

‘Beautiful World’ and ‘Tunnel’ all benefitted from lush arrangements, mature vocals and bolstering from some well-placed backing tapes; ‘Demon Driven Man’ showed off some edgy blues licks.

Earlier material was not forgotten however, and Neeson was keen to pay respects to fans who had been on the whole journey with the band. ‘Waste Your Tears’ from ‘Revival’ was particularly strong, with some fantastic bottle neck guitar and solid riffage from Paul Mahon.

‘In This Land’ became an acoustic set piece in raggle-taggle style, with Mahon on mandolin, and Neeson and bassist Michael Waters donning acoustic guitars. It went down well.

‘Thief of Light’, possibly the set highlight, followed and again the band swapped stringed instruments amongst themselves to create a brooding, largely acoustic backdrop for folk-inspired harmonies and a plaintive lead vocal from Neeson.

And then pow! The double-take switch-back to the heavy boogie powerhouse of ‘Demon Eyes’, just before you were anticipating a guest slot from The Levellers.

This ebb and flow hallmarked the set right to the close. The full-blooded, high octane, back-catalogue ‘Come Follow Me’ gave way to the epic, Celtic-influenced new number ‘Battle Cry’, with a bodhran-like rhythm and chanted vocals.

The new and the old sitting side-by-side gave the set variety and spice, knitted together by a band who played everything with passion and skill. That’s ultimately what the crowd wanted to see and they spilled out onto the wharf as happy punters. Good gig.

Review by Dave Atkinson

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