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FM: Nearfest 2006

The Canadian proggers are so near to genius here.

Often regarded as peripheral figures on the Canadian prog scene, FM thrum with brilliance on this live recording.

The trio exude power, emotion, virtuosity and play thrilling melodies and, such is their dextrous flow and confidence, it’s amazing to think this was the band’s first live performance in a decade. At various points their musical approach brings to mind Yes, Rush, Saga and Tangerine Dream, but veterans Martin Deller, Cameron Hawkins and new member Claudio Vena ride through with their own wash and verve. The band perform almost the whole of 1977’s debut album Black Noise, with most of the remainder of the set drawn from Surveillance, released two years later. The way the trio intertwine their own separate musicalities provides an object lesson in how to turn self-contained individuals into a seamless collective. Italian Vena slips easily into the line-up, his use of viola and mandolin complementing Hawkins skilled keyboard slides. Deller, meantime, is unfussy behind his kit, adding flourishes where necessary rather than merely to accentuate his own capacities. When it’s required, Hawkins’ voice radiates with a clear command that nods towards Jon Anderson, while definitely singing from his own songsheet. Everything about this show holds the attention and it’s tough to pick out highlights here; everything holds the attention. But what the DVD part of this package shows is how FM sparingly use projections, so that when they are employed the impact is precise. Both Hawkins and Vena are active and activated throughout and the three work within the confines of simple lighting effects as well. That said, they don’t interact much – there’s scarcely any acknowledgement of the audience by the band. They seem a lot more intent on changing instruments and tuning up between tracks than bantering with the Pennsylvania crowd, who, judging by their reaction, are as entranced by FM as anyone watching this will be. There are no extras to speak of, but even without these this is still a superior live release.