Hof 88, Almelo, The Netherlands
Sunday, 30th October 2022
If Mohammed doesn’t come to the mountain… I had been particularly looking forward to this for quite a long time: a show by Dutch proggers Leap Day in Youth Center ‘t Blok in Nieuwerkerk, almost in my backyard. Especially after the release of that superb latest studio album Treehouse. Unfortunately, the gig was cancelled: too few tickets were sold. What is it with us prog fans?! Would I still have to face the long drive to Friesland in the North of Holland to go and see the band during their own Northern Prog Festival in November?
Radio station Xymphonia brought a solution: as part of the festivities celebrating the special milestone of their 1500th broadcast, Leap Day was invited to perform at Hof 88, an equally intimate theatre in the centre of Almelo, in the eastern part of Holland, near the German border. And free of charge too, all you had to do was reserve a ticket, you never know how many people will attend. So the ‘mountain’ went to Almelo, accompanied by a fellow Progwereld critic. And we were certainly not disappointed.
Rather an unusual starting time, 3:00 pm, so a real matinee performance, and back home in the western part of Holland after the show in plenty of time. And how about this – free parking, right in front of the venue. I’d been there once before, a show by The Enid, complete with debuting (That) Joe Payne. Public interest is disappointingly low; whereas capacity is about 200, there were only an estimated 60 people present, the lion’s share of which were band’s and organiser’s family members and friends. The rest can safely be deemed to be ‘die-hard prog fans’, those who elected to stay at home were proven wrong, once again.
The band starts off a bit awkwardly, they appear on stage in the dark, in dead silence, and play the instrumental Sun Stood Still. It looks a bit stiff. This improves drastically during the swinging Clementine, from new album Treehouse. The band had chosen to play a lot of new work, interspersed with older material.
On God of Wars the hard rock voice of new vocalist Hans Kuyper comes much more into its own. When asked to introduce the song What Would You Do, someone in the audience immediately replies ‘a cold beer’. Then it’s the turn of Like Icarus, the emotional story about the fire in which eight young squatters lost their lives. The last song before the break is the well-known Changing Directions, from 2013 album From the Days of Deucalion, Chapter 1.
After the break, the band kicks off with When Leaves Fall. The love song is marred by technical hiccups, guitarist Eddie Mulder is hardly audible. Fortunately, this has already been remedied for Raining, a melodic ballad with a prog metal edge, while Phaeton, off 2016’s From the Days of Deucalion, Chapter 2, suffers a bit from slightly out of tune vocals.
The catchy title track from Treehouse is played without a techno interlude, the slide guitar at the end sounds heavenly. Singer Hans Kuypers takes care of the introduction of the band members before announcing Haemus. Hans is completely in his element during the closing epic Walls, which I have rarely heard in a better version. A very successful show, it must be said, after a somewhat hesitant start. The more these musicians relaxed, the greater was the enjoyment of playing and therefore also the quality. Exchanging glances between the two keyboard players, positioned on either side of the stage, and the guitarist suggested a high degree of mutual fun.
Unfortunately the gig was plagued by technical problems, especially Eddie Mulder’s guitar amplifier seemed to be a source of misery. The sound left something to be desired at times, despite the presence of an experienced technician from Poppodium de Boerderij in Zoetermeer: the volume was much too high, well above the permitted limit, not necessary at all in this relatively small venue. Mulder’s guitar sounded much too sharp and edgy and the sound seemed to bounce off the walls.
Nevertheless, Eddie Mulder regularly demonstrated what a fabulous guitarist he is. The only professional musician in the company once again showed why he should not be missing from the list of Dutch top-notch players. Despite technical imperfections, lavishly scattering one great melodic solo after another on that beautiful Galama Stratocaster of his. Keyboardists Gert van Engelenburg and Derk Evert Waalkens are the driving forces behind the band, especially in a supportive role but occasionally also with some strong soloing. The rhythm section with drummer Koen Roozen and bassist Harry Scholing looked solid, especially the latter stood out with his melodic playing.
For me personally, the moments when especially van Engelenburg and Mulder played in unison were the highlights of the day. Wonderful melodic moments of symphonic beauty, well worth the long drive. The epic Autumn from the new album is not played, unfortunately. The song turns out to be too intricate (for now?) and is doomed to play the same role as Mad Man Moon, the wonderful Genesis song from A Trick of the Tail which has never been played live.
Actually, this show acts as ‘dessert’ for Xymphonia’s party: during the break the employees were extensively put in the spotlight, to loud applause. That was also the case for the sympathetic northern proggers who presented an excellent performance to the enthusiastic audience. Both during the break and afterwards they mingled with their fans, all quite casual, and adding their signatures on the walker of one elderly fan evokes endearment.
Afterwards, my colleague and I drove back to the west with smiles on our faces. A free matinee show in an intimate theatre, two sets of approximately 50 minutes of brilliant and honest progressive music from our own soil. That makes the 200 kilometre return journey a lot more pleasant. Every once in a while a mountain has to move, hasn’t it?
Sun Stood Still
God of Wars
What Would You Do
When Leaves Fall
Gert van Engelenburg – Keyboards, Background Vocals
Hans Kuypers – Lead Vocals
Eddie Mulder – Guitars, Backing Vocals
Koen Roozen – Drums
Harry Scholing – Bass
Derk Evert Waalkens – Keyboards, Backing Vocals
[Photos courtesy of Jet (E-Lens)/Marcel Debets (Progwereld)]