As The SixxiS launch into Dreamers and Nowhere Close from their recent Hollow Shrine album, to the uninitiated (i.e. most people here) they seem a fairly straightforward heavy rock/metal band.
Then a bit of a funky edge evolves, with blues, nice vocal arrangements and unexpected musical twists and turns. By the time they get to Coke Can Steve and frontman Vladdy Iskhakov whips out an electric violin, many have warmed to this exciting young American band. A number of punters head over to check out their merch as the epic Out Alive wraps up the set – quality support band mission accomplished!
A sizeable audience greets Spock’s Beard with warmth. Although here in the UK just last year, their brand of multifaceted prog, melodic hard rock, high-quality musicianship and good humour is clearly missed. Opening with sure-fire crowd pleaser Day For Night, it’s clear how successfully Ted Leonard has been assimilated – a perfect fit of presence and voice.
Not performed in the UK for about 13 years, the terrific, heavily reworked George Harrison song Beware Of Darkness is a rare and welcome treat as they turn in a superb version. Except for a stunning outing for the involved, hard-hitting and über-proggy Skeletons At The Feast, the ‘set-list losers’ tonight are all four Nick D’Virgilio-fronted albums, and the whole of V.
Although disappointing for many, it means that some less obvious choices materialise. Harm’s Way gets an airing, as does In the Mouth Of Madness and, less unexpectedly, four songs from their latest, Brief Nocturnes And Dreamless Sleep. Ever the entertainers, Alan Morse smiles and bops throughout, with nary a guitar note going awry, while Ryo Okumoto lives every musical moment, throwing shapes, headbanging (very elegantly, mind you), wrangling his arrayed clutch of keyboards, and playing a blinder.
A brilliant Snow medley of Made Alive/Overture, Devil’s Got My Throat and Carie is a brief reminder of a time when the Beard were on the verge of major success, sadly stymied by Neal Morse’s departure. In a nod to another ex-member, Jimmy Keegan emerges to sing the poignant lines originally delivered by Nick D’Virgilio in Carie, receiving a huge cheer for his efforts (as does his ‘cartoon voice’ rendition a few songs later). And you know it’s prog when the guitarist announces, “We only have one more song… but it’s 22 minutes long!” That ushers in The Healing Colors Of Sound.
On this evidence, Spock’s Beard seem to be in good shape – musically astounding, new material standing up well alongside old classics and, after two decades and significant line-up changes, they still look like they love every moment. One of the most involving and entertaining prog shows you’ll see this year.