Published on 3rd April 2022
Pencarrow – Live at San Fran
Pencarrow’s likeable debut sounded almost like some young fans of bands such as Opeth and Dream Theater were inspired to create a band to make their own music in that style. And I have a feeling that’s not far off from the fact. I can’t imagine anyone who heard that debut could have expected the gargantuan step up that their second album Growth in the Absence of Light showed. It was easily one of my favourite releases from 2020 and left me eager to hear what the band might come up with next. And while I still don’t know what that might be, in the meantime the band have released a live album off the back of their tour for that second album – and it’s no less brilliant. I have to admit this surprised me a little, as I was unsure how well the album might stand up broken into pieces. For, although Absence contains eleven tracks, they have always seemed to me more like eleven movements of one long suite – similar in many ways to Green Carnation’s magnum opus Light of Day, Day of Darkness. That behemoth could easily have been divided into separate tracks as each movement is easily discernible, and just as easily Absence could have been released as a single-track album. Both are ostensibly prog metal albums that often stray far from the stereotypical tropes of that genre, utilising instrumentation (even orchestration) that is not the norm. So how well could this translate into a live performance, where the album was not performed in full?
If anything, what it shows is how ingeniously Absence was composed and sequenced, as the flow is perfect – and even though there are a couple of breaks between tracks, it is easy to hear how they could have continued seamlessly, had the band chosen to do so. I suspect the breaks were more in order to give the band a break and to acknowledge the audience than because they were a musical necessity. Even though some tracks from the album are missed out, this is not really noticeable because of the overall homogeneity of themes and melodies. While each track on Absence has its own style, all have an overriding and interconnecting relationship that holds them together – and they remain perfectly together, even when a part is removed. You could call Absence holographic, as just as every part of a hologram contains the image of the whole object, so does every movement of the album carry the theme of the whole suite. You can cut off the corner of a hologram and see the entire image through it. For every viewing angle you see the image in a different perspective, as you would the whole object. And so it is with Absence. It’s an astounding aural trick, and proves to me the accomplishment of Pencarrow.
I alluded to this holographic nature in my review of Absence when I commented that “within the first two instrumental tracks, we get hints of Floydian grandeur, metallic breaks, and some sumptuous symphonic sounds – all of which will be returned to, in one form or another, throughout the remainder of the album.” The San Fran show begins, like the studio album, with those two instrumentals, and they are just as hair-raisingly effective (and affective, for that matter). At this point on Absence, the first track with vocals occurs, but rather than head into that here, the band continue with the next instrumental piece, Time Dilation. This was the track where I felt Absence really took off, and it’s no different played live. The only difference is, with the absence of A Meeting of the Shadows, we get there much quicker. The band really feel like they kick into another gear, and the intensity is driven up not just a notch, but several. It’s an absolute highlight of the live performance, that must surely have energised both the band and the audience. Every member of the band has an opportunity to shine on this track, and actually, in general. Even though these are the same compositions from Absence there’s a far greater sense of every member holding their own and showing how important they are to the sound. It is perhaps rawer and rougher at times, but not to any detriment. Anthony Rose on keyboards is still amazing, but his presence isn’t as commanding. And, conversely, Elton Halford’s bass playing certainly gets a greater presence than Todd Thompson’s did on Absence.
The next track is one of my favourites from the album, Stasis/Flux, and just as I did with the studio version, I have to say how much I like Justin Chorley’s drums, and how gorgeous Tonnie ten Hove’s guitar is. This track will always wow me, I think. The next omission from the Absence track list is Silent Beauty, but for anyone who knows the track, this is hardly surprising as it is effectively a seven minute passage of classical music that would have been difficult to replicate on stage. Although it’s one of my favourite tracks on Absence, I can understand why it’s not present. It also makes for a quite nice show of two halves, as Live at San Fran effectively has a first act of instrumentals, followed by a second act with vocals. While Memory Terminal is instrumental, it’s a short, simple and beautiful one that acts as an interlude on Absence, and a surprisingly effective closing number on Live at San Fran. This ends the live performance of Growth in the Absence of Light at this venue, but there is one more song, At Last, Omniscience, the closing number of Pencarrow’s debut. As much as I like this song, and the album it comes from, played after the Absence tracks, it really does emphasise how much the band has grown since. But at over 16-minutes, it’s hard to ignore the beastly goodness that this song provides.
This means that the band may not like what I’ve done, as I’ve actually removed At Last, Omniscience from its place on my album, so that the bonus performances recorded at The Crown continue directly from Memory Terminal – and it sounds beautiful, and meant to be, to my ears. I guess it reiterates the holographic nature of the album, because although the first bonus track is the third track from Absence, it sounds absolutely perfect coming after Memory Terminal. By removing At Last, Omniscience, almost the entire Absence album is played, albeit not in the same order. But it works, regardless. Of the eleven tracks from Absence, nine are performed between the San Fran and Crown shows. The two that are not performed aren’t greatly missed by me. Deep Abandon was my least favourite Absence track, so I don’t mind that it was abandoned. And even if Silent Beauty is one of my favourites, I wasn’t expecting to hear it. And, realistically, only A Meeting of Shadows is out of place, as the next bonus track is Twins Paradox which follows Memory Terminal on Absence. Honestly, if you didn’t know that the San Fran and Crown performances were from two different gigs, I think you’d be hard pushed to recognise that. With At Last, Omniscience removed (sorry!) what’s left is a remarkably cohesive album that sounds more natural to me than a lot of live albums from other bands where they’ve patched together songs from different gigs. (Ok, I admit it, it’s not removed completely, so much as I’ve made it the bonus track of my album.)
Pencarrow are a band I’d love to see live, but am probably rather unlikely to, so I’ll definitely take this as the next best thing. Thanks, guys!
01. In Medias Res (4:12)
02. Portrait of My Intimate Frailty (5:50)
03. Time Dilation (6:06)
04. Stasis/Flux (8:15)
05. New Light (4:34)
06. Memory Terminal (4:37)
07. At Last, Omniscience (16:17)
08. A Meeting of the Shadows (Live at The Crown) (7:56)
09. Twins Paradox (5:19)
10. The Approaching Shade (5:42)
Total Time – 68:48
Anthony Rose – Keyboards
Elton Halford – Bass
Justin Chorley – Drums
Tonnie ten Hove – Guitars, Vocals
Record Label: Independent
Country of Origin: New Zealand
Date of Release: 9th February 2022