Cairo at Boston Music Rooms, London – live review

Organising a gig in the run-up to Christmas can be a hit-and-miss affair for bands on the touring circuit.

live pic
(Image: © Katja Ogrin)

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Even well-seasoned acts struggle to sell tickets during London’s boisterous Christmas party season, and tonight’s event seems to have been particularly hit by this phenomenon. Some of this has to be attributed to the sky-high door price, which may have put off passing trade who could have been coaxed in for some progressive festivities – but it also can’t have helped that Southampton mainstays Kepler Ten dropped out of the line-up just days before, and that there are several other bigger prog gigs on in the capital the same night.

However, the sparse attendence does little to throw Cairo off. The band is the latest venture of ex-Touchstone helmsman Rob Cottingham, and tonight they launch into their new, debut album Say with gusto. Unsurprisingly, Touchstone’s influence runs through Cairo’s synth-led fare – from the artfully-blended interplay of male and female vocals through to Cottingham’s swooping electronica and an underlying ongoing narrative.

Considering the pedigree of the sum of their parts, the band start out a little tentatively. Jostling for elbow space around Cottingham’s chunky synth set-up, the sound desk initially miscalculates the volume and everything gets lost beneath a fat wall of electronics and chunky guitar lines.

Thankfully this is quickly sorted, and the band launch into the slick Shadow’s Return and Wiped Out, the narrative successors to the Shadow storyline that Cottingham started a decade ago on Discordant Dreams.

After those initial hiccups, Cairo don’t miss a beat. Cottingham’s vocal interplay with Lisa Driscoll manages to sound even tighter than the male/female interaction in his former guise.

The band are at their best, though, when opting for heavier fare. Cairo resurrect Shadow – and it’s particularly glorious, with the synth-boosted guitar lick sounding like it’s lifted straight from Faith No More’s visceral From Out of Nowhere. Then there’s something of Awake-era Dream Theater in the galloping chorus of the unabashedly large Nothing To Prove.

Driscoll’s vocals might work nicely as a counterpoint to these heavier segments, but the same can’t be said on the softer songs – while the vocal delivery is impeccable, there’s something laboured about the likes of Back From The Wilderness and the overblown homage to Hurricane Katrina’s victims, Katrina.

Perhaps fittingly, Cairo close with the one-two punch of the album’s title track and Greg Lake’s homage to the festive season, I Believe In Father Christmas.

For a band whose progressive lineage is writ so largely across their music, it seems fitting that they close with a tip of the hat to another much-missed prog master.