The first thing that’s striking about Purson’s live set, as they launch into the title track from their newest album Desire’s Magic Theatre, is how much louder and more aggressive they are live than on record. Far from a retiring, kitschy psych band, they’re able to conjure up shades of Deep Purple, as well as Camel and Van der Graaf Generator.
For Electric Landlady, frontwoman and bandleader Rosalie Cunningham dons a Gibson SG. As the main riff kicks in, there’s a moment of confusion as those unfamiliar with the band analyse what’s going on – no, it’s not a cover of Hendrix’s Foxy Lady, but the hook is strikingly similar. Nevertheless, the rest of the track is well received, and Cunningham seems noticeably more comfortable with a guitar in her hand.
From there, it’s time to take a diversion into their back catalogue from debut LP The Circle And The Blue Door. Frenetic psych riff-fest Spiderwood Farm is the superior of the two tracks played, with guitarist George Hudson and Cunningham trading riffs for much of the song. Sinewy and more in the manner of King Crimson than many of Purson’s key sonic touchstones, it’s a welcome change of pace from the less athletic tracks that precede it. Rocking Horse which follows is no slacker, however. Complete with melodramatic organ parts and a tight, phased guitar lead break, it’s probably the most old-school style of any of the tracks thus far.
It’s The Sky Parade that’s the standout track from the set though. Its stop-start acoustic intro quickly segues into a driving and muscular verse, but it’s the chorus that really sets the song apart. This has one of those melody lines that’s instantly familiar, but at the same time demonstrably novel to the listener. Heads are soon nodding in the audience, and if anything, it’s over all too quickly.
Closing with Wanted Man from 2014’s In The Meantime EP, the band are finally able to indulge their urge to have a full-on psych wig-out. Restraining themselves for the first few minutes of tight keyboard and guitar interplay, and acrobatic runs up and down the scales, at the climax of the track they cut loose, with Cunningham and Hudson playing question-and-answer solos as the rest of the band vamp around them.
In Purson’s music there’s scarcely a note that’s out of place, so leaving aside the obvious fact that on record, Cunningham plays everything, seeing the musicians improvising freely and playing off the energy in the room really breathes new life into the song, just as it has the rest of the set.