Venue: The Robin 2, Bilston Monday 28th March 2016
I had been looking forward to this gig since I knew about it, 3 amazing bands for less than £20, what entertainment, what value for money…
As we had to fit three bands in, Oktopus were up first and took to the stage at 7.00pm. With new album “Worlds Apart” is available from Friday 1st April (and on sale at the merch desk guys – review to follow, watch this space), the lads were obviously very keen to promote it. As this is their debut album and the first without original lead vocalist Jane Gillard, their previous EP “Transcendence” has been widely acclaimed, so it was interesting to see if the music on the new album lived up to expectations and I think it’s safe to say, the lads did NOT disappoint, despite it being a short set !! This is a very well-oiled machine – Bass, Lead and Drums, all firing at full capacity. For such a young band there is a great deal of experience, skill and enthusiasm on show and although critics of their music have commented that there’s simply “too many notes” (as if !!), the music is hyper, hard and heavy with so much going on, but to the uninitiated, it might sound like a wall of sound – listen closer and there’s a lot of very clever stuff going on under the surface. Fretless six string bass pounds away in the background, courtesy of James Corden look-alike Samuel C. Roberts, driving the music along like a fucking diesel locomotive with soaring guitar overlaid and vocal from Alistair Bell and solid drum sound via Tim Wilson, these guys can play and then some. Watching them on stage, there’s a nod here a wink there and an almost unspoken synchronicity between them. Totally into the music, even if you didn’t like the music, you can’t deny the energy they exude. Elements of Jazz, Hard Rock and more time signature changes than you can shake a fist at, having been listening to the album all week, I can guarantee you will NOT be disappointed, definitely a band to keep an eye on. Keep checking the MM website for full album review very shortly….
After a short break and an equipment change, co-headliners, the Dave Kerzner Band, took to the stage and, amongst others, included Durga McBroom (ex Pink Floyd vocalist) and long-time band mate Fernando Perdomo (who plays a mean slide guitar). With such a wealth of material behind him, having worked with so many Prog luminaries (including the recently departed Keith Emerson, Francis Dunnery, Steve Hackett, Simon Collins and Nick D-Virgilo, not to mention the artists, bands and projects he’s involved with !!), his first solo project “New World” was met with great critical acclaim and we had tracks from that tonight along with a tribute to his good friend Keith Emerson – Dave’s take on “Lucky Man”. Seated at his keyboard at the front-centre of the stage for most of the set, donning an acoustic for the final section and taking on lead vocals, with Durga and Fernando joining in, this is a man on a mission. Having interviewed Dave earlier in the evening, he openly admitted that he likes to be in charge, the one to be holding the reins and with this band he has that opportunity. With Bass and Drums care of his band-mates from Mantra Vega (yet another side project with Heather Findlay), musicianship throughout was impeccable with a varied set including an awesome cover of “Great Gig In The Sky” which gave Durga free rein to belt it out and if you closed your eyes, it was Pink Floyd, absolutely stunning…
Another tribute “My Old Friend” was dedicated to his close friend Kevin Gilbert and to finish we had a medley of tunes from the Sound Of Contact album “Dimensionaut” (new album in the pipeline folks !!). Basically, in the time he had on stage, we had a very varied set with a well-though out set-list, something for everyone I suppose. Nice one Dave, keep up the good work and we look forward to your next visit to the UK in one of your many sidelines/projects – brilliant.
Yet another break and equipment shift around, the co-headliners for the evening hit the stage – District 97. Now I’ll be honest, during our interview the band had quite low expectations on audience figures, basically anticipating around 50 people per gig. Let’s get things straight from the get-go, this tour was totally crowd-funded by fans, without that, it would never have happened due to the economics. Can I just say at this point, what a travesty !! I for one cannot thank the band enough for flying over from their home town of Chicago in the US of A, fully anticipating playing to a minimal audience. Well I hope they enjoyed the gig at The Robin as I gather, although far from a capacity crowd, it was reasonably well-attended for a prog gig. The entire issue of “dwindling” audiences is somewhat of a contentious and debatable issue. Having spoken to bands and organisers in the past, it would seem the bigger more well-known acts command higher footfall, it’s what I call the “comfort of the familiar” – FUCKING STOP IT GUYS, step out of your comfort zone, be prepared to take on new music, new bands and you never know you just MIGHT come across a hidden gem coz if we don’t support the younger, more up and coming acts/bands, they ain’t gonna be here for much longer. All the passion and enthusiasm in the World unfortunately doesn’t pay the bills and let’s face it, everything these days comes with a price tag. Check out the gig guide at your local venue, join Classic Rock Society, buy “Prog” magazine, check out “Discover” on Spotify, listen to “The Lost Art” every Sunday on Midlands Metalheads Radio, 4.00- 7.00pm and prepare to have your mind blown, the Prog Train is a-rollin’ and you need to get on board !! Prog don’t begin and end with Yes, Genesis, ELP, King Crimson and Pink Floyd et al, even though they have contributed greatly to this wonderful genre, new blood – look for it and embrace it (here endeth the sermon…)
That said, D97 performed in buckets and spades tonight. Leslie Hunt out front is the focal point and what a performer, throwing her heart and soul into every last syllable. Having grown up in a Jazz environment and achieving a level of success in American Idol, Leslie’s voice is very expressive, very powerful and cuts thru’ the sound like a hot knife thru’ butter, hard to believe such a powerful voice comes out of such a small frame, awesome. The backing band are equally astounding, with a heavy Jazz emphasis based on their past experience, they provide a very solid core with astounding musicianship. I was particularly impressed when Jim Tashjian (Guitar) broke a string partway thru’ “Death By A Thousand Cuts” (from latest album “In Vaults”), one could almost see the sweat forming on his brow as he tried to attract a guitar tech to sort it out, whilst the rest of the band carried on regardless bringing the song to its eventual climax sans guitar, so professional. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before Alistair Bell from Oktopus and Fernando from the Dave Kerzner band jumped in to help out with the next song performed on Fernando’s own guitar, whilst Alistair restrung Jim’s – amazing teamwork.
The two new members (Tim Seisser on 6-string Bass and Andrew Lawrence on Keys) have stepped up to the plate well and took on the mantle of their predecessors with aplomb, whilst Jonathan Schang pounds away with the intensity of a steam hammer on the the drums, adding a solid back-beat to every song on offer tonight, adorned with a Lamb Lies Down T-Shirt, it’s obvious where his influences lie and despite his youthful looks, carries a great deal of experience and input, especially as he’s the band’s main songwriter. During our interview, I broached the subject of John Wetton’s involvement with the band, initially on “Perfect Young Man” from “Trouble With Machines” (performed tonight with Jim taking the Male vocal) and eventually on their live set covering King Crimson classics and, despite the complexity of KC’s music, Jonathan very confidently said “ he knows it so well he could play it backwards” and after tonight’s performance, I totally believe him, excellent. During tonight’s set, we had their cover of “One More Red Nightmare”, impeccably performed with no effort whatsoever. If KC decided to call it a day, these guys could SO create a very commendable tribute band.
D97’s latest album has a harder edge to it and this came across live. Personally, I think it’s a good move for the band as it would seem they have now dropped the addition of a cello player. If this heavier sound is the shape of things to come, the band can only go from strength to strength and I for one would like to applaud them for having the guts to bring their music to a wider and (hopefully) appreciative UK audience. By the time this review goes live they will have left the country, but if you get the chance to check out their albums until they return, do so immediately, this band go from strength to strength….
Click here for the full gallery – courtesy of Rob Billingham of Billibee Creative