The 1865, Southampton
Thursday, 19th October 2023
Five fellas in assorted brightly coloured shirts and one rather dashing blazer saunter through the audience at Southampton’s The 1865, mount the stage, casually take time to ensure all their instruments are tuned and, without any fanfare whatsoever, launch into what quickly becomes an evening of outstanding musical magic and artistry.
This is one of only two dates for The Flower Kings on a visit to the UK supporting the release of their sixteenth studio album, Look At You Now. The 1865 is pleasingly full and special mention must go to both a sound system which provides a near-perfect soundstage, revealing remarkable levels of transparency, depth and insight into the music, as well as to the lighting rig which is beautifully alive to the moods and shifting atmospheres of the setlist.
From start to finish, the band deliver a spell-binding musical experience which exudes a graceful elegance and seemingly effortless sophistication. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the moments of sparkling virtuosity emerging throughout the entire set. Roine Stolt’s majestic guitar solo toward the end of Big Puzzle sweeps you away on a tide of captivating emotion and transports you to a different world altogether. I’ll confess I found the moment profoundly moving, its soul-searching beauty unexpectedly overwhelming to the point of bringing me to tears.
Michael Stolt’s bass lines are nothing short of an exhilarating master class. A calm, relaxed demeanour gives no indication of the passionate intensity, the undulating momentum and the crisp, focused precision underpinning each song. In a similar vein, Lalle Larson’s keyboard work is a thing of mesmerising beauty and exquisite finesse, the extended solo intro to Big Puzzle demonstrating unbelievable shifts of energy and nimble dexterity. His playing is a delightful dance which embraces you with gorgeous layers one moment and sprightly, playful melodies the next.
Yet this level of virtuosity only becomes apparent because of the seamless chemistry and the natural fluidity of the band as a whole. Mirko DeMaio’s drumming is confident and assured, an anchoring presence which permeates – and because of that enables – all aspects of the instrumental artistry on display. Hasse Fröberg (as always) is phenomenal in the mountain of work he does in rhythm guitar, moving to lead guitar, back to rhythm guitar, continually oscillating imperceptibly between the two.
The realisation dawns that this is precisely where the compelling allure of The Flower Kings originates. Watching them play Church of Your Heart is the ultimate exhibition of why their music has such captivating magnetism. Roine and Hasse swap lead and backing vocals throughout; the bass and keyboards contrast and then combine to provide texture and atmosphere. The drums offset the bass, underpin the guitars and then change again to fill the space left by the vocals and cradled by the keyboards.
What we are given, across the entire evening, is nothing short of a stunning demonstration of the enthralling power of complementary musicianship, where the boundaries of each instrument are never fixed but are perpetually responsive to, and permeable with, what the others are doing. The music is profoundly intuitive, instinctual and naturally organic because the band are so ‘tight’, so sensitively aware of what the other band members are doing in each and every moment they are on stage.
It perhaps also explains why they looked so exhausted as they came off stage. The sheer commitment it takes to play like this, live, is exceptional but deeply, deeply rewarding. Even more impressive is that on top of all the travelling, the soundcheck as well as the gig itself is being played on gear hired for the two nights thanks to the disgraceful treatment of bands who wish to come to the UK, due to the costs incurred post-Brexit.
The setlist is a marvellous journey through albums dating from 1995’s Back in the World of Adventures to the latest release, with a healthy sprinkling of songs from Stardust We Are (1997) for good measure. Day for Peace, from the new album, is a poignant moment in the evening in light of the current events taking place across the world, and Roine’s touching opening words before they begin amply show just how important music is in its ability to resonate with and provide comfort, strength and solace for people who are struggling to make sense of their feelings and emotions in relation to these horrible, tragic events.
A magnificent evening ends with an encore of Paradox Hotel, the band rocking hard in tandem with an audience positively bouncing with enthusiasm and happiness. The sense of having been a part of something dynamic, exciting, alive and enlivening is palpable as well as the feelings of gratitude that, just for a while, we were totally caught up in an experience which made us forget everything else even as Storm Babet was raging outside.
Bravo! Encore! Please come back soon.
[Photos by Jamie Roberston]
Ghost of the Red Cloud
Deaf, Numb & Blind / Garden of Dreams
Church of Your Heart
Day for Peace
What If God Is Alone
Stardust We Are
Mirko DeMaio – Drums
Hasse Fröberg – Guitars, Vocals
Lalle Larson – Keyboards
Michael Stolt – Bass
Roine Stolt – Guitars, Vocals