Tina Booth’s just had chips. She’s sorry to take to the stage in jeans and a casual top – she did bring a dress but forgot to shave her legs. The singer also apologises for Chris Fry’s horrendous red shirt. And quite right, it is a bastard of a shirt! We’re all friends here though – the guitarist’s in on the joke, as is Rob Reed, who can barely fit his in-ear monitor for giggling. Magenta haven’t played a note yet and the 200-strong crowd are laughing and cheering, their relaxed demeanour drawing us all in.
And then, they proceed to play the best set this writer’s seen them perform. Maybe it’s because they’ve got the home ground advantage in this cosy Cardiff club. Maybe it’s because there’s a Friday feeling. Or maybe because they haven’t really done this for a while, but everything goes right for them, and us, over the next 90 minutes.
Crucially, right from the opening bars of the epic Glitterball, their sound is bang on the money – loud and powerful and rich in detail. Rhythm section Dan Nelson (of Godsticks) and Steve Roberts are locked in tight, and Fry’s assured approach to electric guitar remains a big part of the draw, his every fiddly solo earning approbation from the large contingent of axe aficionados here. His tasteful slide work’s just one of the adornments brightening A War Bride’s Prayer, a song with a dramatic breakdown and dynamics that the band pull off spectacularly well. The Devil At The Crossroads – that demanding Yes-influenced highlight from latter-day album The Twenty Seven Club – is such an energy-sapping challenge that Mama Booth actually offers her boys a banana before they count it off.
Rob Reed’s prolific output and his near-puppy dog enthusiasm for progressive music mean perhaps he’s not always given his due, but most of this music has come from his brain and fingers. His keyboard flourishes – the stirring string chords and Moogy solo on the none-more-neo Lust; the emotive piano of Janis Joplin eulogy Pearl – are vital to this music’s success.
Powered by carbs and in comfy clothes, Booth is a delight. She articulates the subtle Prekestolen and lulling Towers Of Hope beautifully, and brings a feminine warmth to The Lizard King and Pride, the towering encores that get rapturous, borderline ecstatic applause.
That shirt has to go, though.