Always a fertile breeding ground for those of a progressive persuasion, Europe’s rich tradition in producing torchbearers and envelope-pushers in the genre has borne diverse and exceptional exponents, strikingly illustrated by tonight’s co-headliners.
Swedish sextet Moon Safari open with a technically adroit and crisp set, the lion’s share of material coming from last year’s Himlabacken Vol.1. Album standouts Mega Moon and Too Young To Say Goodbye showcase a masterly control of dynamics and turn-on-a‑sixpence time and mood shifts. Boasting four-part harmonies at the upper end of the register, keyboardist Simon Åkesson also possesses a warm vibrato that neatly dovetails with frontman Petter Sandström’s sharper delivery.
Symphonic, in that the songs are multi‑suite, compacted symphonies rather than chock-full of ominous bombast, there’s also a healthy seam of classical pop running throughout, channelling Jellyfish, ELO and even Queen alongside the more obvious touchstones of IQ, Genesis et al. Encore Constant Bloom, an impressive ensemble a capella piece, strikes a curiously formal note – though it wouldn’t be out of place on the _Pet Sounds _bonus disc – and has the crowd in raptures.
France’s Lazuli prove a rather earthier proposition. Bedecked in black fatigues and punk aprons, adorned with a plethora of top-knots, dreads, tatts and beards, they look for all the world like a gang of French anarchists intent on mischief. From the opening programmed beats of Déraille to its crushing and soaring chorus, it’s immediately apparent something extremely powerful and exciting is happening here. A far heavier and more intense experience than their recorded output indicates, world rhythms collide with walls of guitar and more esoteric instrumentation (muted French horn, marimba, not to mention guitarist Claude Leonetti’s self-invented léode), to stunning effect. Also present: industrial undercurrents, a multi-layered Eastern and African influence, hypnotic percussion and acres of groove.
Singer Dominique Leonetti’s voice invokes a youthful Geddy Lee, yet adds a fragility and grace all of his own, plucking pathos from infectiously melodic hooks and perfectly phrased couplets. Equally capable of bone-crunching riffs and uplifting anthems shot through with a Celtic/Gallic folk sensibility (sometimes in the same song, such as Homo Sapiens), it’s a beguiling blend.
A few technical hitches cause some hold-ups, frustrating for band and audience alike, but are borne with such good humour and humility that any negatives are immediately inverted. The magnificent On Nous Ment Comme On Respire, an eco-themed epic touching on Tinariwen, Killing Joke and Transglobal Underground along the way, is followed by the full band performing Nine Hands Around The Marimba (use your imagination), ending the sadly curtailed set with a nod-and-a-wink diversion into Solsbury Hill. Vive la difference…