One man has been here since 4pm and a woman in a waterproof jacket, looking vexed and bedraggled, sprints to the front of the stage as soon as the doors are open.
Make no mistake, these are passionate fans. And while the warm-up act is good (more on that in a bit), our guess is that they’ve all come to see the high-profile combo of some of progressive rock’s finest, namely Mike Portnoy, Neal Morse and co parading their Flying Colors. Warming up the throng in Islington’s theatrical cavern is John Wesley, whose long‑standing residence in Porcupine Tree is second to a whopping two decades’ worth of solo stuff that he unveils tonight. His songs are reminiscent of Steven Wilson’s band, juddering and crashing with complexity and metallic tinges, focusing on tight and rapid fretwork. Once A Warrior’s forlorn and screechy solo takes this off to a darker place, cementing Wesley’s aptitude for innovative hooks with a classic rock edge.
Under the gaze of the Jupiter-sized glitter ball that hangs above the stage, Flying Colors assume their places as Portnoy whips off the sheet that has been hiding his drum kit. The air drips with anticipation, nurtured by the prospect of seeing Steve Morse of Deep Purple fame, Dixie Dregs’ Dave LaRue, and Casey McPherson, with his touched-by-God voice. They begin with Open Your Eyes from new album Second Nature. It’s bracing and ambitious, steadily building from a smoulder to a grand crescendo, like Muse’s most bombastic moments. All the while, like a naughty kid playing at the back of the classroom, Portnoy is uncontrollably entertaining, spinning his sticks and conducting the audience, cucumber in hand – literally! There’s simply no ignoring him – he’s a one-man drumming machine. Songs from Second Nature sound brilliant tonight, in particular The Fury Of My Love, which is Flying Colors’ indisputable ‘lighters in the air’ moment, and Neal Morse’s star vocal turn on A Place In Your World. An outing of Alpha Rev’s Colder Months – the song that got McPherson’s foot in the door – is an unexpected highlight, showcasing the sheer brilliance of his range and clarity. In other places they shine as individuals – LaRue’s elastic solo on Forever In A Daze, Steve Morse’s seamless transition from acoustic to crystalline licks on Peaceful Harbor and Neal Morse’s exquisite tinkling adding texture upon texture and other-worldly goodness. An encore of Infinite Fire seals the deal, but from start to finish, Flying Colors wow and mesmerise at every turn through the sheer proficiency of their individual and collective mastery.