“Tonight is my last show with Karnataka!” the angelic-voiced Hayley Griffiths announces to a shocked audience. There are loud protests and Prog is poised to grab the exclusive.
Fortunately, it turns out to be a false alarm and the singer quickly corrects herself. “Don’t worry, it’s just my last show as an unmarried woman!” There are audible sighs of relief as she resumes the set with a dedication to her hubby-to-be.
It’s been three years since Karnataka last played London, and those two shows were among Griffiths’ first with the evolving band. Back then, she was still finding her feet as a progressive rock frontwoman, and occasionally stumbling over them. Tonight is a different story. Under the dancing lights of the massive disco ball that looms over the Assembly Hall’s spacious stage, Karnataka sparkle as they sweep into a Peter Gabriel-esque Road to Cairo.
Griffiths’ powerful vocals are gorgeous and display just the right balance of rock and classical prowess. With a new confidence, she commands the stage in a way she didn’t before. Her voice suits the band’s new symphonic sound, which is only occasionally punctuated by older classics, such as The Right Time. Griffiths still seems to struggle with the songs – not vocally, but in terms of enjoyment. It’s only on material from their current album, Secrets Of Angels, which she helped write, that she really comes alive.
The audience clap and cheer along as Karnataka’s new sound brings a new chemistry on stage. Although there’s only a small line-up change since last time – Jimmy Pallagrosi joined on drums last year and Enrico Pinna is now the band’s only guitarist – things seem to flow better. They no longer feel like a work in progress but a band heading in a clear direction. It’s a pleasure to witness them perform the powerful multi-part closer Secrets Of Angels live – it connects all the aspects of their music into one satisfying piece.
An encore of Feels Like Home completes the performance, but despite such an enjoyable evening, Karnataka’s stripped-down stage show doesn’t match the drama of their new music. Will they try to compete with their explosive symphonic rock peers or is another stylistic change on the horizon?