As seasonal as mince pies, mulled wine and avoiding the mistletoe at the office party, Christmas wouldn’t be Christmas without the annual IQ bash, and the faithful have come en masse. There’s barely room to breathe but the atmosphere is jovial as all eyes fix on the rear projections. Full of in-jokes, these animated missives seem to be getting sillier year-on-year.
A sound collage features Bela Lugosi inviting us to listen to the “children of the night”, as he does on the intro to the current The Road Of Bones album, but the epic Sacred Sound wrong-foots us. The quintessential IQ track, it showcases their ensemble playing through its various sections until the church organ part towers over proceedings, reminiscent of Rick Wakeman’s cathedral chords on Close To The Edge.
Being close to Christmas, there are few casual observers tonight, so the fans are treated to the relatively obscure It All Stops Here, which originally surfaced on a 1982 cassette release. By now, though, it’s evident that Peter Nicholls is suffering from a cold, as his voice begins to crack when hitting the highs. “It’s this again,” he observes, referring to the frequency of the Xmas Bash. “Oh no it isn’t!” comes the pantomime reply.
Describing the protagonist of The Road Of Bones as “an unpleasant character” is certainly one way to understate the actions of a remorseless serial killer. Someone yells, “Merry Christmas!” to keep up the pantomime pretence.
Nicholls struggles with his throat during the song’s atmospheric, vocal-intensive first half, and by the end, when he’s in character, strangling himself with surgical-gloved hands, one has to feel he’s punishing his uncooperative larynx.
The whole of the latest album gets an airing. Lugosi returns for the introduction proper to the vampire tale From The Outside In, but plenty of classics are dotted in-between: Guiding Light, _Outer Limits and set closer Headlong_.
Guitarist Michael Holmes returns for the encores sporting a gargantuan pair of LED-studded black wings and a flashing halo. In a humorous but loving tribute to former manager Geoff Banks, who sadly passed away at the end of November, they cover Wings’ seminal Jet, replacing its refrain with “Geoff!” as images of their friend of 30 years adorn the screens.
Some divas are showered with flowers. Michael Holmes gratefully receives several packs of Caramel Wafers from the front row before tonight’s final song, Widow’s Peak. It’s an idiosyncratic gesture for a band who inspire cult-like devotion.
Vocal problems notwithstanding, tonight isn’t a classic IQ gig, but that’s hardly the point of these Xmas Bash shows. 2016 will be their 35th anniversary, and the same faces will surely return at the same time next year.