Taking over from original vocalist Tony Wright, who bowed out last year, guitarist Andy Ditchfield seems to be growing into his expanded role as the frontman of DeeExpus.
He has good patter between songs and vocally is at his best belting them out, as he hits the odd duff note in the gentler passages. It helps that he has a strong band behind him, particularly guitarist Michael McCrystal, who impresses with an elegant solo in Seven Nights, and drummer Henry Rogers, whose articulate playing suggests the influence of Gavin Harrison. They tangle with some technical issues tonight – the batteries in Ditchfield’s microphone expire halfway through their set – but the band fill the interlude with an impromptu blues jam and the audience, while modest in size, is nothing if not supportive.
Guitarist and songwriter Michel St-Père is the lone original member left in the ranks of French-Canadians Mystery. Despite his role as the band’s musical engine, St-Père never seeks out the spotlight on stage, instead leaving it to new vocalist Jean Pageau, replacing Benoît David, to deliver the drama. Pageau’s style and delivery recall Steve Perry, which suits the music as Mystery often straddle the line between the worlds of AOR and prog, cut from the same pattern that produced Journey and Kansas. They craft multi-part compositions of epic length – tonight they only manage to squeeze seven songs into their headline set – but they always favour melody over technical wizardry. Neither St-Père nor second guitarist Antoine Michaud – another brand new face – show any inclination towards shredding, preferring instead a restrained approach to their solos. They open with The Third Dream, followed by Dear Someone, and Wolf. It’s a measured beginning; all of the three songs are carefully mid-tempo and Dear Someone could stand a jolt or two of caffeine to pick up the pace. Fortunately their first real epic of the night, Another Day, lifts the energy level and is followed by the musical marathon that comprises the six suites of Through Different Eyes. Some of the lyrics are on the trite side, with children laughing and mothers crying (to be fair, kids are annoying), but Pageau’s total commitment and vocal chops carry him through. Pride has a deep groove courtesy of bassist Francois Fournier and drummer Jean-Sebastien Goyette, while the encore of Travel To The Night boasts a powerful instrumental break. Perhaps it’s a reflection of the unstable line-up, but if Mystery have a shortcoming tonight it’s that Pageau has to handle all the stagecraft by himself. Next time, chaps, help him out.