The Talking Heads in Southampton is a cracking little venue, but unfortunately it suffers with the curse of being “a bit out of the way”, as such, tonight’s crowd is a little sparser than it might have been at one of the more central city venues.
This doesn’t seem to faze tonight’s opening act however, as Jolly (8) power through their short set of hook laden progressive anthems-to-be with the confidence of a band twice their senior. Easily the most mainstream sounding of the acts on offer tonight, the New York four-piece are still anything but conventional, their bizzare time changes confusing the headbangers in the front row is particularly amusing.
The highlight of their set is the haunting ‘Dust Nation Bleak’ which has one of those choruses that you’ll find yourself singing aloud days later. While perhaps a little more subdued than the bands to follow, Jolly are the perfect opener for this kind of gig and do their best to encourage the crowd to take a few steps forward.
On next, and making their UK live debut are the intriguingly named Bend Sinister (9), who actually prove to be anything but sinister. Their psychadelically dressed, hippy headbanded frontman; Daniel Moxon, leads proceedings with his soulful voice and ELO-esque keyboard playing, taking centre stage (despite the best efforts of hyperactive, raccoon hatted, bass player Matt Rhode).
Their sound is difficult to explain properly, however a combination of Burn era Deep Purple, ELO and (perhaps most unusually) a feel of American gospel music, all tied together with a massive pop sensibility; probably does them the best justice. Their songs are emotional and uplifting without ever feeling mawkish, tracks like ‘Things Will Get Better’ and ‘Best of You’ which contains the lyric “When the world brings you down, keep your head up high, and your feet on the ground” are genuine, heartfelt, feelgood tracks, the likes of which have been missing from alternative music for a long time. Do yourself a favour, pick up their latest album Animals, and see this band live at the earliest opportunity.
Tonight’s headline act have had, to put it mildly, a turbulent few years. After seemingly disappearing from existence altogether somewhere around mid-2010, Bigelf (10) are back, and after a multitude of line-up changes, better than ever. The band take to the stage accompanied by the sound of the Imperial March from Star Wars, before launching into ‘The Evils of Rock ‘n’ Roll’ from their 2008 release Cheat The Gallows. Indeed, most of their set comprises of material from this album, and their critically acclaimed release from earlier this year Into The Maelstrom. Seeing Bigelf live is less a gig, more a religious experience, with the perenially top-hatted Damon Fox delivering his sermon of music industry corruption from his keyboard strewn pulpit.
This is progressive music on another level, unlike anything you will have ever heard before, yet comfortably famaliar all at once. Yes there are echoes of Pink Floyd, Black Sabbath, King Crimson etc, but Fox has managed to take these influences and craft them into something truly unique – A homage to the heavy and progressive bands of yesteryear, whilst still being fresh and relevant to a modern audience.
The rest of the band comprises of long-time regular bass player Duffy Snowhill, John Wesley (touring guitarist with Porcupine Tree), and Damon’s own son Baron Fox on drumming duties. Many people had expressed displeasure that recent collaborator and touring member Mike Portnoy, would not be drumming on the UK leg of the tour, however, after the sublime dispay of drumming from Fox Jr. tonight, those people might just be tucking into a large slice of humble pie.
Despite the modest size of the crowd, the band absolutely give it everything. The way Damon Fox expertly caresses the right notes out of his multi-keyboard setup is, at times, reminiscent of the way a certian British time traveller controls his blue box. Which is appropriate, given that ‘The Incredible Time Machine’ and ‘ Alien Frequency’ (both songs from the most recent album) feature in tonight’s set-list. It’s unfortunate, and incredibly unfair that a band of this quality have still not broken through as a huge act despite 20+ years of hard work, and two of the best progressive rock albums of the modern era. Hopefully the current tour, and recent publicity surrounding their May release will mean that the elves can return to these shores more frequently. In the words of Mr Fox himself – It’s built to please true music lovers, it stays with you a lifetime.
Words – Alex Loach
Photography – Jane Driver