It’s another lengthy day of travelling on the road but at the end of it there lies the proverbial crock of gold, the tour’s flagship gig at the Borderline in London and the last House of Progression show of the year.
Getting to central London in a van, setting down equipment and then depositing said van in available nearby car park on a weekend so close to Christmas does offer more challenges than a Royal Marines obstacle course. But both Moon Safari and Lazuli are sound-checking almost on schedule.
This is the first time Lazuli have experienced the commercial craziness of the pre-Christmas capital and Moon Safari are pleased to be back after their triumphant show at the now defunct Peel in September last year. Both bands are fired up and impatient to get on stage and there is also a palpable air of expectation as the doors open and promised 200 strong crowd begins to file in.
Among the attendees tonight is a sizeable Scandinavian contingent including the parents of Moon Safari’s giant bassist Johan Westerlund. Swedish prog fan Tobbe Janson, who has flown in especially for the gig with his teenage son, is among the dozen from the Big Big Train Facebook group who have chosen this gig as a reunion following on from the Big Big Weekend in Winchester last year. To their collective delight and surprise, they are joined for pre-gig drinks by the band’s Greg Spawton and Danny Manners. Though the anticipated appearance of Steven Wilson (Lazuli are great fans of his) did not materialise, one of his former guitarists, Niko Tsonev is in the House tonight along with John “Lifesigns” Young. Also spotted are Matt Young, HeKz’s charismatic frontman and John Mitchell, producer of their new album Caerus.
It’s a particularly hot night down in the Borderline basement and the temperature gauge rockets skywards as Moon Safari put the previous night’s challenges behind them and launch into overdrive for one of the most perfectly pitched and exquisitely delivered hour and a half’s prog this humble reviewer has ever witnessed. Simon Åkesson’s voice is back to awesome as he and the ever-animate frontman Petter Sandström, clad in white with a pair of trousers which look like a spray paint job, provide the main focal points on stage.
They power their way through a collection of the classics including Heartland, Mega Moon and the epic closer _L_over’s End Pt. III: Skellefteå Serenade. But the ecstatic crowd want more – and they get it through another airing of the a cappella Constant Bloom and a storming version of Methuselah’s Children. Like Lazuli, being a family group by way of brothers Simon, Sebastian and Pontus Åkesson obviously has its advantages especially when working on those spine-tingling close three (and four part with Petter) harmonies during those off-duty moments.
Timings are always tight at the Borderline and Lazuli are becoming past masters on this tour of setting up their elaborate array of exotic instruments in confined spaces.
Finally, they are on and creating a totally different vibe through opener Deraille that captures everyone’s attention with its unusual North African guitar riff and driving rhythm.
Most of the songs are from this year’s Tant Que L’Herbe Est Grasse including one, Prisonnière d’une Cellule Mâle, which frontman Domi Leonetti charmingly describes as “being about the state of woman”.
His English may be halting but there is nothing holding back the band, the applause for each song getting increasingly longer and louder. In particular, Claude Leonetti, playing his unique, self-built Léode seems to be totally energised by the time and the place and his fingers seem to fly across his electronic “fretboard”.
The band members are visibly affected by the response and for the second encore, Domi says the band would now “like to make a present for everyone”, which of course, is the quite brilliant Nine Hands Around A Marimba. Like Moon Safari’s Constant Bloom, this is the band’s calling card and no other band around probably possesses either the musical skill or the telepathic teamwork to pull off something quite as complex and entertaining as this.
Some people in the audience are already saying this is the gig of the year. But Bilston still lies ahead tonight so never say never…….