My first trip to the Half Moon for a good few years and although the pub at the front had had a sharp makeover, it was good to see that the venue through the swing doors had not changed at all.
Sticky floor included.
ESP 2.0 is a reboot of guitarist/producer Tony Lowe’s prog project that released the album ‘Invisible Din’ in 2016. Only Tony and uber-drummer Mark Brzezicki remain from that line up. Peter Coyle, formerly of the Lotus Eaters, has assumed lead singing duties. The live band features Pete Clark on bass and Richard Smith on keyboards.
It initially looked like the crowd would be a disappointing damp Tuesday night turnout, but as the band climbed the stage, enough punters came through from the pub to provide a decent enough atmosphere.
The first track was perhaps a little underwhelming in that the instrumental (largely) from the first album meant Coyle was barely required to contribute vocals. Throughout the fluid guitar lines and sweeping synth strings, Coyle remained stage centre with head raised and eyes closed.
The band garnered a bit more energy for the extended second track, also from ‘Invisible Din’ where Lowe played some beautiful wah-wah guitar in a piece that let Coyle flex his vocal chords a little more.
Inevitably, the sound of this owes a lot to Tony Lowe’s work with King Crimson and Robert Fripp. This is classic symphonic prog. Beautifully played and well put-together, but heavily influenced by the Yes-early Genesis-Procul Harem continuum.
Coyle has contributed a lot of material for the new ‘22 Layers of Sunlight’ collection. Tracks like ‘God of Denial’ and ‘Ride Through Reality’ had a more direct feel about them. The former in particular was a real tour de force and featured the first eye-catchingly extravagant drum manoeuvres from Brzezicki. My drum groupie mate informed me that he believed Brzezicki had his drum sound and set up dialled in to “Phil Collins circa ‘In The Air Tonight’”. I took his word for it.
There was a compendium piece of first album highlights called ‘Invisible mash-up’ and then a very strong instrumental passage preceded by ringing guitar from Lowe that evoked Peter Green’s ‘Albatross’.
The best track of the night was ‘Gunshot Lips’, full of uplifting orchestral passages, stirring guitar parts and vocals that switched between melodic and something a little harder, with more spirit.
Coyle provided a good focal point on a crammed stage, throwing a few statuesque shapes at the climax of songs and even chucking in some inventive Stones Roses shuffling. I’d like to hear his voice cut through in the live arena more. The intelligently crafted songs and confident playing could certainly bear more weight and gravitas in the vocal department. But these are early days for the line- up and these wrinkles will be ironed out as they develop.
‘The Ballad of Broken Hearts’ had a lovely feel, ploughing an early Genesis groove. The band closed out with ‘Sensual Earth. This had a proper dirty riff and a very direct sound that put me in mind of Pallas or Marillion. Lowe and Smith combined for a thrilling change up on a fine set-piece keyboard moment, with Clark’s pulsing bass providing a dynamic backdrop.
This was a good way to finish. A few more dramatic interludes like this would lift the show up a notch or two. Overall, a good gig. Once the band tweak the tempo, flow and edge of their show, ESP 2.0 can be a real force to be reckoned with.
Review by Dave Atkinson
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