Back in 2020, Gazpacho inimitably added to the general strangeness of that momentous Covid year with their own particularly peculiar and unmistakably ‘Gazpacho-flavoured’ release, Fireworker, a darkly hypnotic concept album. The pandemic prevented them from presenting it in a live setting so they decided to broadcast a performance of the album captured at the St. Croix arts and cultural centre in Frederickstad, south of Oslo in Norway, on 25th October. This broadcast was streamed at the time, and earlier this year Gazpacho released the performance in various formats, including CD, vinyl, Blu-ray and a sumptuous super deluxe version with CDs, Blu-ray and DVD in book packaging with artwork, lyrics and extensive liner notes. The Blu-ray and the deluxe version also includes extra songs not streamed originally, and other great bonus content.
The Progressive Aspect has already covered the original Fireworker album in depth so we will not be going into great detail about the concept behind this imaginative album, which can be read in that review. Fireworking at St. Croix presents those songs atmospherically and powerfully with stark backlighting. Gazpacho have chosen not to present this piece with any great gimmickry or embellishments – this is purely about their music presented in exceptional sonic and visual quality. The emphasis is on their art without distraction or adornment, and the effect is mesmeric. Jan Henrik Ohme’s distinctive pure high register vocals ring out with such crystalline clarity, highlighting how well he manages to control the passion he puts into his vocals.
The ‘Fireworker’ was described by keyboardist Thomas Anderson his interview with TPA at the time as a “…life force that has somehow managed to survive for billions of years… You and me are only the ‘vehicle’ in which it currently travels. All it wants is for us to procreate. It wants to copy itself, and it doesn’t give a shit about you, and once it’s done with you it wants you to die because you need to back off to make space for more generations of ‘It’.”
This meditation on the fundamental struggle between Mankind and the Life force which drives it along, seemingly played out in the internal caverns of the mind, is perfectly suited to the stark visual and sonic surroundings in which Gazpacho perform the album – it feels like we are in that mental cave witnessing the drama. Gazpacho choose to play these songs very close to their original forms without adding to or deviating from the themes, focusing on a pure presentation of the album without ego. There are no flamboyant solos, each player contributing exactly what is needed for the whole piece rather than giving way to shows of virtuosity.
Nevertheless, the quality of Gazpacho’s musicianship is outstanding, particularly Mikael Krømer on violin for the haunting and hymn-like Hourglass. Robert Risberget Johansen shows consummate percussive skills on the contrasting tribal drumming of Fireworker and the more subtle percussion played in the delicate Antique. However, in Gazpacho it is not about the individual, it is about the whole band playing complex, beguiling and powerful music in perfect harmony and with precision, with great performances throughout on guitars and bass by Jon-Arne Vilbo and Kristian ‘Fido’ Torp (who also filmed the bonus interviews). The lyrical and musical leadership of the band is found in Jan Henrik Ohme and Thomas Andersen. Andersen stands at the back with white light pouring out behind him, excelling with vast banks of organ at some points, giving way to raindrops of piano and xylophone sounds. His wizardry extends to triggering swathes of sampled choirs which resonate magnificently in Space Cowboy, the eerie chanted vocalisations representing his Mind warning the main character to not go any deeper.
Space Cowboy is one of the most ambitious pieces of music Gazpacho have ever created, combining touching, fragile sounds with mighty slabs of rock and choral proclamations to convey the internal dialogue as the main protagonist presses on with determination to confront his inner Fireworker… and the way it is performed and presented in Fireworking at St.Croix beautifully conveys the atmosphere and desolate imagery perfectly.
It is interesting to note that the band is not set up as if they are facing an imaginary audience, like so many other ‘Lockdown’ performances. Gazpacho are set up in a circle on a stark, minimalist set, looking inwards to emphasise the internal perspective which underpins the Fireworker album. At the heart of the album is a real tension – the Fireworker figure undoubtedly has elements of darkness, but without it we would not have survived. That tension is underlined in Fireworking at St. Croix with shades of light and dark, soft and hard, performed with such clarity, subtlety and power, symbolising the conflict between the conscious Mind and our ancient instincts and inner force.
For listeners who have yet to venture into the world of the Fireworker this would be an excellent introduction, particularly as this release has the additional advantages of fantastic artwork by Antonio Seijas. There is also an extra 30-minutes of ‘classic’ Gazpacho also performed at St. Croix, dating right back to their second album, 2004’s When Earth Lets Go, Substitute for Murder featuring some particularly good guitar work from Jon-Arne Vilbo. This additional material relies heavily on one of their best albums, 2009’s Tick Tock, with Winter is Never and the epic and highly atmospheric The Walk, which features some gorgeously judged violin from Krømer and subtle drumming, which transports us evocatively from a dark room in Norway into the widescreen world of the desert.
In addition to that content, on the Blu-ray and DVD versions there is also the diamond bonus of an acoustic version of Winter is Never by Ohme and Andersen – Ohme’s crystalline vocals float on a delicate bed of piano giving this song a very different feel. The bonus content of these versions also includes a fascinating interview with Andersen and Ohme about the concept of Fireworker, which is well worth delving into.
Additionally, the Blu-ray version has an interview with Antonio Seijas, the Spanish artist who has supplied artwork for Gazpacho since the 2005 Firebird album. This is particularly interesting as he explains how he is inspired by the music to create the right visual imagery for what he calls ‘true art’. Gazpacho give him complete artistic freedom and he is determined that each album ‘must have its own soul’ – the unique, beautiful and arresting images associated with each Gazpacho album are testament to that artistic and intuitive relationship. Blu-ray viewers are also able to see Thomas Andersen dissect one of the songs from the album in an ‘Anatomy of a Song’ section, and also have the pleasure of the excellent videos created for four pieces from the Fireworker and Soyuz albums, including the weirdly hypnotic Clockwork section of Space Cowboy and the beauty of Exit Suite. Last but certainly not least, the Blu-ray version has the wonderful bonus content of seven songs taken from their final performance of the Soyuz tour in 2019, at the Borderij in the Netherlands. I was fortunate enough to see them on this tour and the musical and visual imagery used for these shows is fantastic, and well worth the Blu-ray on its own!
Gazpacho have always set themselves a very high bar in what they want to achieve artistically and in Fireworking at St. Croix they continue to excel with the quality of the content. Quite aside from the unique, distinctive music and visual output, Fireworking at St. Croix stands out with the attractive quality and style in which it is so artfully and beautifully presented. Unlike some deluxe versions, which may just appeal to ‘uber fans’, Fireworking at St. Croix would be an excellent introduction to someone unfamiliar with the band’s music. It is challenging and complex but at the same time it draws in and fascinates both listener and viewer with its wonderful imagery and sounds. Fireworking at St. Croix takes Gazpacho to another level in an ambitious presentation. Indeed, this may be one of the best of the many ‘Lockdown’ releases so many bands have released in the last couple of years. Characteristically, Gazpacho took that idea and just went so much further with it, with fantastic results – all hail the Fireworker!
01. Space Cowboy (19:39)
02. Hourglass (4:44)
03. Fireworker (4:45)
04. Antique (6:23)
05. Sapien (15:17)
Time – 49:48
01. Substitute for Murder (5:38)
02. The Walk (Part I) (7:53)
03. The Walk (Part II) (5:35)
04. Winter Is Never (5:27)
05. Chequered Light Buildings (6:40)
Time – 31:13
Total Time – 81:01
Blu-ray (5.1 Hi-Res Audio)
Track listing – Same as CD 1 & CD 2
– Winter is Never (Acoustic)
– Exit Suite
– The Concept of Fireworker
– The Art of Fireworker
– Anatomy of a Song: Space Cowboy
– The Superstition of Fireworker
Soyuz at the Borderij 2019:
01. Soyuz One
02. Upside Down
03. Emperor Bespoke
04. Tick Tock (Pt 3)
05. Splendid isolation
06. Molok Rising
07. Soyuz Out
DVD (5.1 Hi-Res Audio)
Track Listing – Same as CD 1 & CD 2
– Winter is Never (Acoustic)
– The Concept of Fireworker
Jan Henrik Ohme – Vocals
Thomas Alexander Andersen – Keyboards
Jon-Arne Vilbo – Guitars
Mikael Krømer – Violin, Mandolin
Kristian “Fido” Torp – Bass
Lars Erik Asp – Drums, Percussion
Record Label: Kscope
Country of Origin: Norway
Date of Release: 21st March 2022
– Bravo (2003)
– When Earth Lets Go (2004)
– Firebird (2005)
– Night (2007) (Reissued 2012)
– Tick Tock (2009) (Reissued 2015)
– A Night at Loreley (live) (2009)
– Missa Atropos (2010)
– London (live) (2011)
– March of Ghosts (2012)
– Demon (2014)
– Night of the Demon (live) (2015)
– Molok (2015)
– Introducing Gazpacho (compilation) (2015)
– Soyuz (2018)
– Fireworker (2020)
– Fireworking At St. Croix (2022)