EartH, Hackney, London
Sunday, 17th April 2022
Some of us went to earth on Easter Sunday. No, not hiding from anyone, although you’d be forgiven if you’d thought we had if you’d seen us disappearing through the unobtrusive, but scarlet painted, door which initially appeared like the side goods entrance for the neighbouring restaurant businesses; as it was still light outside, the neon sign above wasn’t yet visible.
A new venue to me, EartH (Evolutionary Arts in Hackney) feels to me somewhat how a Tardis would: a vast secret lair or bunker of epic proportions lay before us as we emerged blinking into the gloom, at the top of several flights of steps; main bar and merch department on one level, cloakroom at another, having climbed up… how many flights? It put me in mind of a short story by Compton McKenzie, The Stairs That Kept Going Down, although obviously we were going up, and in memory of that, a sense of impending doom crept in. “Where on ‘earth’ are we now?” my brain uttered as we climbed, turned corners, and climbed some more, suddenly finding ourselves at an unassuming door.
As my eyes adjusted to the gloom, a sharp contrast from the well lit stairway, I could hear the hum of chatter. I peered alarmingly, and somewhat vertiginously, downward on the amphitheatre bench seating area to see it was significantly populated by apparently small seated figures facing an absolutely enormous stage, the scene reminiscent of any number of sci-fi films where, flaming torches at the sides (here the lights from the two smaller bars each side at the top), the established overlord might be about to address his newly conquered minions.
Such correspondingly epic-proportioned entertainment then ensues to suit the cavernous surroundings!
A joint headlining evening, up first from Norway are Gazpacho, at the end of a short tour to promote the recent release of a new video, single, and album. The live performance of Winter is Never (the single) is taken from the live album Fireworking at St. Croix, a recording of the band’s live stream during the COVID 19 lockdown, after their 2020 tour to support then new album Fireworker was cancelled, the song originally from their 2009 album Tick Tock.
As promised in my recent interview with band founder Thomas Andersen, the set encompasses favourite tracks from several albums since 2007, as a bit of a retrospective to welcome the audiences back to live performances.
Rocking off to an uplifting start with the most recent studio album’s title track, the rollicking beat sets the initial tone for the evening, along with genial frontman and vocalist Jan Henrik Ohme’s warm welcome. Even though the stage is huge, the six of them fill it, if not physically, certainly with the sheer strength of their fulsome and many layered sound. Contrasting, more ponderous, tracks Emperor Bespoke, the spookily atmospheric Golem, and I’ve Been Walking (part 2) follow, with emotional intensity from Thomas’s atmospheric keys, delicate violin and mandolin from Mikael Krømer adding a sense of intrigue and the exotic. The use of complex rhythms and recorded vintage/antique operatic vocal samples add an inventive and nostalgic quality, with the longer I’ve Been Walking, in particular, building emotionally and anthemically. Thomas’s delicate keyboard theme punctuates Jan Henrik’s stunning higher register; he has a most gorgeously expressive voice, an engagingly sweet tone, and gentle vibrato, as his story-telling melodies weave around the other instruments, creating an immersive blend of melodic lines.
Binding it all together, along with the foundations of composite keys from Thomas, are the strong dramatic guitar riffs and chords from Jon-Arne Vilbo. Sadly, injury has forced usual drummer Robert Johansen to stay at home to recuperate, but the estimable Lars Erik Asp, Gazpacho’s drummer from 2010 to 2017, has returned to grab the reins in his place, his powerful pounding drums and quirky percussive passages blending seamlessly in the mix.
Clockwork is accompanied by the band’s intriguing official video, which with its rich golden tones provides a mesmerising glowing background. Along with the alien characters of the piece, the otherworldly light emitted creates a wondrous fantasy effect to complement the music.
Introduced by Jan Henrik as a song about investigating the time between getting into bed and going to sleep, Upside Down gives Jon-Arne and Mikael an opportunity for a bout of almost guitar duelling, as the rhythmic playing and improv solos overlap with one another, while Kristian Torp’s solid bass underpins this most danceable track so far – indeed a couple of audience members in the front row are evidently straining at the leash to get up and dance, in the space between the front seats and stage, until one finally does, thus adding to the audience’s experience of the catchy mesmeric quality of the song. The dream-like accompanying video, involving woods, lakes, sailboats, and birds, is reinforced by the gentle building relentlessness of the song, and Jan Henrik’s sweet spot singing. The experience I’m feeling with this particular song is akin to the whole permeating the inner visionary aspect of the brain, as, yet again, an other-worldly aspect pervades the music, making me think of the Scandinavian influence. The driving rhythm fuels me on, going off in various directions in my mind about the subject of half-awake visions.
Tick Tock’s soaring anthemic themes dominate but the glorious vocal line pierces through, while Sapien, a particularly epic piece of mystery and impending doom, draws me in yet again to Gazpacho’s ‘other’ world. The eerie vocal line flows over the enchanting keys, power-laden guitar, and ultimately fierce drum-battering parts, while the delicate glockenspiel midsection is sublime!
Not long to wait, as interval time is approaching, for the encore of Winter is Never, which rounds the performance off nicely, as if we’ve gone full circle back to the catchy upbeat start of the set. A clear favourite, this rousing finale absolutely enthrals the audience with its haunting yet accessible melody, allowing Jan Henrik back up to his impressive high notes.
Throughout, as well as the videos, an amazing backdrop of slides, and beautiful geometric projections onto the side wall evoke and reflect the subjects and intrigue within the songs, all adding to the very special atmosphere created.
I’ve Been Walking (part 2)
Hell Freezes Over
Tick Tock (part 3)
Winter Is Never
Jan Henrik Ohme – Vocals
Thomas Andersen – Keyboards, Programming
Jon-Arne Vilbo – Guitars
Mikael Krømer – Violin, Mandolin, Guitar
Kristian Torp – Bass Guitar
Lars Erik Asp – Drums, Percussion
Following a short refreshment laden interval, stonk alert, as Pure Reason Revolution take to the stage, inducing a lone head banger to inhabit the front space, although after only a couple of songs a mini mosh pit has formed, which gradually expands throughout! For such consistently rousing songs, this seems most natural, as PRR deliver consistently rousing songs. The spacious nature of the venue and the high stage means that those remaining seated still experience the atmosphere of jubilant camaraderie, already created by Gazpacho in the first half.
Promoting their forthcoming album Above Cirrus, original and founding member Jon Courtney is rejoined by Greg Jong for this album, tour, and perhaps beyond. Chloe Alper’s non-availability introduces us to the delightful Annike Shireen in her place, and with guest drummer Michael Lucas, the four-piece have a formidable presence for this initially awe inducing venue, but as with Gazpacho, once they get going, it feels like a joyous celebration.
Also as with Gazpacho, the band mainly revisits their back catalogue. Having reconvened in 2018 (from their break up in 2011), the subsequent album Eupnea is referenced with two tracks, including the first up Silent Genesis, a powerfully anthemic song with zinging keys/guitar effects and duo vocals between Jon and Annicke, over beautifully lilting and soaring melodies. The overall thunderous sound it evolves into lends itself splendidly to the cavernous venue, or is it the other way around? All four band members are physically engaged with the song’s rhythms, and the whole effect is a fabulous start, and truly mesmeric, as the pace increases amid growling guitars, and Annicke’s hair swishes about over her keys.
Phantoms, the upbeat rocking single from Above Cirrus, continues, the shared vocals and harmonies particularly effective, above the driving keys and buzz-saw guitar.
Tuning gets adjusted before they launch into possibly their most commercially viable song, Apprentice of the Universe, with gorgeous harmonies (which put me in mind of The Mamas & the Papas!). It encompasses an uplifting almost poppy sound, with a quirky almost plinky-plinky echoey keyboard part that affords a delicate dynamic in contrast to yet more grungy guitars and searing keyboard lines in the latter part.
There’s a modern sci-fi soundtrack element to this band, particularly in The Bright Ambassadors of Morning, awash with harmonies and lush vocal layers, unless it’s simply the accompanying visuals of a space asteroid rolling towards us that influences me here, but I actually think it’s the crazy key changes in the uplifting instrumental passages that have got to me, immediately prior to the most guitar riff-laden headbangers’ delight closing section of the evening!
With Arrival / The Intention Craft we hear the extremely soulful vocal abilities of Greg, adding another layer to Jon and Annicke’s well matched voices, and in Bullitts Dominae Jon’s light, almost ethereal, vocal touch contrasts terrifically with even more fervent harmonies and complementary guitar thrashing; all the time Michael rocking his socks off behind it all, drumming with all power to his throttle! The variable pace continues within the next two songs, Ghosts and Typhoons, from Eupnea, and an evidently audience favourite single Deus Ex Machina, from the 2009 album Amor Vincit Omnia, with atmospheric voiceovers and intense chant-like vocals alongside frenetic guitars. A fabulous set with so many degrees of power versus lyrical elements finishes gloriously with AVO (from Amor Vincit Omnia) as encore, a suitably full-on dance inducing track, that results in an almost universal standing ovation from those previously seated! All really rather glorious!
I must mention that the sound mix is especially good in this venue with wonderful clarity for the intricate elements of both bands tonight.
I confess, I knew virtually nothing about each band musically before researching for the aforementioned interview with Gazpacho’s Thomas Andersen, and certainly nothing at all beyond Pure Reason Revolution’s name before tonight’s gig, but I’ve now got two more bands to add to my list of ‘must see again’s!
Apprentice of the Universe
The Bright Ambassadors of Morning
Arrival / The Intention Craft
Ghosts and Typhoons
Deus Ex Machina
Jon Courtney – Vocals, Keyboards, Guitars
Greg Jong – Guitars
Annike Shireen – Keyboards, Vocals
Michael Lucas – Drums & Percussion