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Gazpacho: Fireworking at St. Croix caught live

Gazpacho
(Image credit: Nina Krømer Photography (Krømer Foto))

Norway’s Gazpacho have evolved since 2003 from moody art rockers to purveyors of some of the most cerebral and challenging concept albums in prog history. 

2020’s Fireworker was no exception in that regard. It meditates on the eternal relationship and struggle between man and the lifeforce that animates him. 

When their tour with the newly reformed Pure Reason Revolution was cancelled the band made alternative plans to play their latest opus live from their rehearsal space near Oslo. St. Croix has been the venue for Gazpacho’s tour pre-production and is the venue for this unique streaming event. 

The spartan interior and stark lighting chime well with the journey into the mind that the epic opener Space Cowboy presents. “Caved in/Myself” croons Jan Henrik Ohme, his unaccompanied voice, sparse and vulnerable, is bathed in cavernous reverb as if echoing within the protagonist’s skull. It is an unexpected symbiosis, this marriage of theme and setting, which would not have occurred if the tour had gone ahead as planned. This is proving immediately to be a unique and fortuitous plucking of victory from the jaws of defeat. 

Gazpacho

(Image credit: Nina Krømer Photography (Krømer Foto))

Piano and electric violin fill the void until the rhythm section finally punctuate the air and the full band sound materialises. The dangers of the protagonist’s self-searching are warned of by sampled choir, triggered by keyboardist Thomas Andersen, lending an air of Carmina Burana to the proceedings.

Space Cowboy is a dark and brooding twenty minutes. Its theme of self-analysis and its towering grandeur recall Van der Graaf Generator’s A Plague of Lighthouse Keepers, perhaps consciously referenced in the lyrics “Lighthouse keeper/Foghorn dancer/Moonlight traitor.” Its many distinct sections veer from fragile self-reflection to bombastic Orffian splendour. Such complexity requires stoic concentration from each of the six band members. There is not much in the way of theatrical performance or production value, which are mainstays of the Gazpacho live experience. Instead we are sitting in on a band rehearsal. It’s important to remember this distinction. This can’t be judged on the same merits as a ‘normal’ gig. 

That being said there is still plenty to marvel at in the ensemble and individual playing of these musicians. Michael Kromer’s electric violin solo in the hymnal Hourglass is a plaintive cry to all the ancestors who struggled and got us to this point in human history. 

Gazpacho

(Image credit: Nina Krømer Photography (Krømer Foto))

Fireworker itself provides a more standard rock feel albeit with a strange time signature evoking tribal music from across the globe. Drummer Robert Johansen, who has been solid yet musical throughout, impresses on the title track’s quirky backbeat. Johansen is a powerful force behind the kit but plays with economy, mingling programmed electronic percussion loops and live acoustic drums, most notably on Antique. 

The final epic Sapien is driven along in the style of the band’s classic Tick Tock by a repetitive rhythm. “I am this thing that needs to be” Ohme opines, giving voice to the Fireworker driving his shell of a body from within. It’s a creepy and unnerving track. Kromer doubles Jon-Arne Vilbo on electric guitar, filling out the sound, as the sextet swell and crash wave after wave of gothic crescendo. With no masking crowd noise and often singing a capella, Ohme deserves praise. Even in the most delicate of passages he is in complete control where he could so easily have been exposed under the microscope of this artificially created live performance. 

As Sapien reaches its apex, the band’s secret weapon, yes it’s Michael Kromer again, soars on slide guitar. The glacial slow tempo and searching lead are reminiscent of live versions of Yes’s concert staple And You And I

Not a word has been spoken so far and without further utterance it’s time for the encore. Perhaps words would be superfluous since there is no audience, not even a virtual one - this was filmed several months prior to its airing. 

Gazpacho

(Image credit: Nina Krømer Photography (Krømer Foto))

Not a word has been spoken so far and without further utterance it’s time for the encore. Perhaps words would be superfluous since there is no audience, not even a virtual one - this was filmed several months prior to its airing. 

Chequered Light Buildings from the band’s breakthrough album Night is perhaps an obvious choice to close the set. It may be because of the musicians’ familiarity with the material or the relief at completing the Fireworker set but the band are visibly more animated and relaxed during this song’s heavier parts.

Fireworker is a difficult but rewarding album and after this performance its fiercely intellectual philosophising feels a little less impenetrable. The individuals who created it pervade the five-song suite with a human connection. One day perhaps we will have the opportunity to witness it in a concert hall. 

Gazpacho's Fireworking at St. Croix is available until the end of the year.