Cacaofabriek, Helmond, The Netherlands
Saturday, 13th May 2022
A special performance by The Flower Kings (TFK), that’s what was announced some time ago. Under the moniker ‘King For A Day’ (reference to Gentle Giant?) a limited number of shows were scheduled in the Netherlands, Germany and Norway, with a matinee performance as a special feature in addition to the well-known meet & greet, photo and signing sessions. This special show was deemed to be an acoustic set, followed in the evening by the actual, fully electric, gig. Progwereld’s Math Lemmen reports on the exceptional ‘acoustic’ show, while Alex Driessen takes care of the evening concert, as well as translation duties.
[This review first appeared in Dutch on the Progwereld website.]
Due to confusing communications regarding the starting time of the afternoon program, I missed out on sound check, a T-shirt and a poster. Oh well, so be it.
Around half-past-three, the ‘acoustic set’ started – but it turned out not to be acoustic at all. The Swedish floral royalty simply played an electric set, albeit in a subdued way. Very relaxed and with a good dose of humour, our guys came on stage one by one, rather casually dressed. The room was nicely decorated with tables and chairs and some warm lights. All the ingredients for a cosy ‘soirée performance’ were present, as band leader Roine Stolt put it.
After apologies from singer Hasse Fröberg for the one-time use of a lyric sheet, and his need for glasses, Let It Be by The Beatles was played. As said, a subdued, almost reggae-like version with a nice piano solo by keyboard player Daniel Lantz, and of course a smooth guitar solo from Roine Stolt himself. Another ballad was played with Train to Nowhere. Stolt explained that this song is actually about the deportation of prisoners in World War II, and linked it to current developments in the world.
Another track from the album Let It Be, Across the Universe passes by, very elegantly performed. After that, the pace steps up a bit with the beautiful Cosmic Circus, however unfortunately this time not linked to Babylon. Soon by Yes makes up for a lot, with Fröberg’s amazing vocals and Stolt’s wonderfully tasteful guitar playing. The soirée is set for a surprising conclusion with Neil Young’s sluggish Ohio. Stolt’s comment beforehand was interesting: he used to sing this song phonetically with the lyrics: ‘poor daddy in Ohio’, until he found out that the actual lyrics read ‘four dead in Ohio’. In between songs there was a lot of banter and jokes that flew back and forth across the stage.
All the attendees, about 70 in total, were invited for a Q&A in a cinema room on top of the main hall. The five band members sat in a row on chairs under the film screen and visitors could fire questions at them from the comfort of their cinema seats, with Stolt remarking in advance that personal matters would not be discussed.
In response to the questions, it became clear that keyboardist Zach Kamins had dropped out due to the exorbitant costs of air travel and visa applications. He was to be replaced during these fan days by Daniel Lantz, and on the upcoming tour in the fall by Lalle Larsson (Karmakanic, Agents of Mercy). Upon inquiry it turned out that the keyboards on the upcoming album were played by Roine Stolt himself and Lalle Larsson. Furthermore, questions were asked about the musical preferences of the five band members and whether they still had time to listen to new bands. Apparently, due to time constraints, the latter was only very rarely the case.
Which musical great would Stolt still like to work with? After some detours, he came up with a bizarre story: a few years ago, he was invited by Steve Hackett to play bass guitar in his backing band during the planned tour, and less than an hour later that same day, by Jon Anderson proposing to record music together. Both are musicians that Stolt had immense admiration for as a young musician.
When asked if he consciously composed epics, he firmly denied it. Some songs grow into epics over time, others stay shorter. After more than an hour of questions and answers in a very relaxed atmosphere and with ever present humour, this block was closed and most of the band members went downstairs to have a bite to eat and prepare for the evening concert.
It’s a sunny day, the fact that we have to wait quite a long time for our food is a bummer (shame on you Brasserie!). The temperature is well above twenty degrees, the atmosphere is great, the clothing is light, excellent conditions to feel like royalty for a day. For some, this will only mean an evening – no problem there. The Swedes almost always guarantee a good show and have built up quite a following. A year ago to the day, they were still playing in Canada, at the end of a North American tour. After a full year of absence, they are now back on the stage of the Cacaofabriek in Helmond in the province of Brabant, Holland. Still a bit rusty, as singer/guitarist Hasse Fröberg indicates beforehand, but the musicality and professionalism are still there, make no mistake.
Shortly after eight o’clock, the band takes the stage. The quintet is suitably dressed in flowery shirts, matching the band’s name and the circumstances of a beautiful spring day. There are some technical glitches, especially with Roine’s guitar and equipment, but the reggae tones of Ghost of the Red Cloud from 1997’s iconic Stardust We Are album kick-start the gig. Stolt introduces the next song as ‘a rocker’, not quite TFK’s strong point. That is to say, the recognisable tones of Paradox Hotel from the eponymous 2006 album are rocking, but have more than enough prog signatures.
There Is More to this World (from Retropolis) is followed by Big Puzzle from 1995’s Back in the World of Adventures, the oldest song this evening, which Roine describes as ‘tricky’ to play. That certainly does not apply to What if God is Alone, also from Paradox Hotel, with its wonderful climax. Church of Your Heart and Compassion have both not been played for almost 20 years, but get more than satisfactory marks. Lots of older material this time; Paradox Hotel (two songs) and especially Stardust We Are (four songs) determine the lion’s share of the setlist. And with only eight songs, the average length is well over ten minutes. Unfortunately no The Truth Will Set You Free, Last Minute on Earth or In the Eyes of the World, but instead some deep cuts, songs that had been erased from the playlist a long time ago – refreshing.
Roine Stolt’s guitar playing has been unsurpassed for years and is downright impressive, but his vocals are also great. He sings his own lyrics from a music stand. The band leader is definitely having a good time, which is reflected in long introductions and anecdotes. He even looks a little emotional when he looks back to the beginning of the band, somewhere in 1994. He talks endlessly: about the first show outside Sweden, in Stuttgart, brother Michael remembers. About his painstaking work during COVID on the remasters of the old tapes, enabling them to be released on vinyl (and CD) with the correct specifications. And he confesses they’ve never been to the Paradox hotel, at least they never checked in. Companion Hasse Fröberg once again demonstrates that he has a great rock voice, although I had the feeling that it possesses less power than in previous years.
No Zack Kamins this time, his absence has been explained previously. For temporary keyboard player Daniel Lantz this means quite a baptism of fire. He does the best he can under the circumstances, complicated by the fact that he is rather inaudible in the mix. Too bad, because the duets between keyboard and guitar are characteristic of TFK’s music. On the other hand, Michael Stolt’s bass sounded much too loud, although I think his ‘rough ‘n’ ready’ style fits well with the music of the current band. He also played a large chunk of his parts from a cheat sheet on a music stand. Drummer Mirkko DeMaio quickly found his place within the band and by now presents himself as a self-assured and solid backbone.
Overall, sound and lighting are good, except for my comments about the mix. Moreover, I would have liked to see a little more spotlight on protagonists Roine and Hasse. The small technical imperfections (monitors, guitar) will no doubt be resolved over time.
Finally, the approximately 250/300 enthusiasts in the Cacaofabriek are treated to a superb version of Stardust We Are, all parts are featured. The unmistakable highlight is the last part with a leading role for Fröberg’s voice; goosebumps. The musicians return rapidly for an unexpected encore: Let It Be by The Beatles is sung by Hasse from a note with the aid of reading glasses. Then it’s all over, after just under two hours; it was a long day for both band and (part of the) audience. The new studio album will be released sometime in September, followed by an extensive tour in September/October, which will also include a visit to the Boerderij in Zoetermeer as well as some UK dates. I’m already looking forward to it.
[Photos courtesy of Willem Betlem]
Let It Be
Train to Nowhere
Across the Universe
LATE SHOW: SETLIST
Ghost of the Red Cloud
There is More to This World
What if God is Alone
Church of Your Heart
Stardust We Are
Let It Be
Roine Stolt – Guitars, Vocals
Hasse Fröberg – Guitars, Vocals, Percussion
Michael Stolt – Bass, Background Vocals
Daniel Lantz – Keyboards
Mirkko DeMaio – Drums, Percussion