As Prog squeezes through a preponderance of men of a certain age bedecked in band colours and an above average count of Hawkwind T-shirts in the audience, it’s clear that Mostly Autumn’s return to the Welsh capital is a most welcome occurrence for their immensely loyal fan base.
Though 20 years long in tooth and subject to a fairly hefty archive of past members, the current line up – multi-instrumentalist Angela Gordon back in the fold, Olivia Sparnenn-Josh firmly established fronting the band – finds the band in comfortable, powerful form, riding a career swell on the crest of their most recent album, last year’s superlative Dressed In Voices. The record is undoubtedly one of the standout prog albums of 2014, and it has a fairly coherent concept: essentially the after-effects of a killing from the perpetrator-now-victim’s viewpoint. Dressed In Voices showcases an ambition and flair only hinted at previously.
The aforementioned record is delivered tonight in its entirety, and there’s more punch to the bombast than on record, as well as a harder edge often absent in polished digital formats. All of these factors considerably up the emotional ante of the evening. An early highlight is Running, which sees Sparnenn-Josh and Gordon hitting perfect Abba-esque vibrato harmonies, adding a sharp sweetness to some keen rock-pop nous. The band’s scope is extremely and impressively broad: Floydian flights soar and dip into moments of introspective melancholy before jerking into propulsive, syncopated keyboard riffs and, halfway through the track Skin On Skin, an almost John Bonham-style drum break.
Eschewing some of their more symphonic tendencies, main man Bryan Josh’s guitar textures never dominate, and likewise Sparnenn-Josh has a similarly soft-power approach, drifting on and offstage and in and out of the music with a restrained yet well-judged bearing. She’s a singer who truly inhabits her voice.
The band play tonight for a muscular and highly impressive two-and-a-half hours, and the second half of their performance comprises a few lesser-played favourites, including Pass The Clock and Parts I-III, as well as live stalwarts like Evergreen. Though fan-pleasing and illustrating their more windswept, whimsical roots, perhaps unsurprisingly the pacing suffers somewhat in comparison with the seamless fluidity of the first half. Here and there, there’s a bit too much ebb and not enough flow, though as proceedings start to wrap up, the epic Questioning Eyes – as good as any example of the band’s widespread abilities – snaps the crowd out of their reverie with its screaming wig-out ending, Josh channelling Freebird, the band off the leash, heads down and off. It’s no stretch to imagine this in an arena.