We can’t help but envy Europe, who get lavished with the presence of Mr Mike Portnoy on drums for Bigelf’s autumn jaunt.
But while the famed sticksman can’t make it as far as Blighty, there’s a veritable feast of entertainment to whet the appetite of any prog aficionado.
And so it begins with Jolly who, despite their cheerful moniker, have a bit of a cob on. “Are these the rowdy Brits we’ve been hearing about?” they say with a hint of sarcasm, before casually yet disdainfully describing their reserved onlookers as “boring”. It’s ungracious, but they have a point. Opener Firewell is a tempest of metallic idiosyncrasy, segueing into Joy with panache and climaxing with a zippy rendition of The Pattern. The New Yorkers are the heaviest band on offer tonight but with a venue only a third full and an apathetic crowd, they struggle to get anything close to a roar.
On the other hand, Canada’s Bend Sinister are a delight. Casual and exceedingly talented, they filter their prog persuasions through a soulful, funky blend of high-energy songs that occasionally rest on country or take us back to the barefooted hedonism of the 70s, guided by the effervescent Daniel Moxon on keys. Teacher starts with the proggiest of organs, expanding into a fizzy roller-coaster ride of good vibes. The band don’t have a care in the world, and so they get a better reception than Jolly. It’s the sumptuously bluesy Black Magic Woman that’s the real heart-stopping moment of their set and wrapping up with Supertramp’s The Logical Song is just the icing on the cake.
It’s up to Bigelf to steal the show and it’s a promising start as they arrive to the heroic strains of The Imperial March, with Damon Fox adorned in his signature top hat, eyes rimmed black and dressed like an enigmatic rake.
The Evils Of Rock & Roll is addressed with typically bombastic strangeness, the air filled with Fox’s dual-keyboard groove. He’s compelling yet aloof and at one point calls the punters at the back of the room “fuckheads” for choosing the “cheaper seats”, even though it’s all standing. Unfortunately, his abrasiveness doesn’t sit well with the reticent throng. Still, the band rage on, drilling through Pain Killers and Hypersleep with sinister intent.
We may yearn for Portnoy (who played on current album Into The Maelstrom) but in his place is Damon’s son Baron, who does a sterling job, and we’re blessed with Porcupine Tree’s John Wesley on guitar, handling the songs with astounding grace and purity. Money, It’s Pure Evil builds to pure, Beatles-esque magic, but it’s Blackball that really takes us on a Halloweeny, psychedelic ride that lands Bigelf with a big cheer, at last.