“This song is called The One You Left To Die,” says Pineapple Thief mainman Bruce Soord, before correcting himself. “No, it isn’t. We’ve already played that…”
It’s a rare moment of confusion in a performance that, after 11 albums and close to 20 years of performances in venues less prestigious than this one, suggests his band are finally getting the size of audience they deserve. Alone At Sea is the song he means to introduce, and with King Crimson and Porcupine Tree drummer Gavin Harrison driving the climax with thudding ferocity and Godsticks’ guitarist Darran Charles pumping out demonic riffs, it’s an overwhelming, ear-shattering highlight.
It’s actually Charles’ second shift of the day. His dayjob band, Godsticks, kick things off with a fierce set based around 2015’s Emergence, a muscular but melodic prog metal affair. Live, the lack of true light and shade on the album is amplified, but when things come together it’s compelling. The title track switches up through the gears from its Sabbath-style intro with malevolent efficiency, Exit Stage Right is a juddering, churning epic, and everything is awash with a shimmering noise that sits somewhere between Devin Townsend and The Deftones. There are also touches of Alex Lifeson about some of the solos, and while Charles might not be the most charismatic entertainer you’ll ever pay to see, he certainly knows his way around a riff and watching his band is an immersive experience.
Light and shade is what The Pineapple Thief do best. Shifting from soft, delicately conjured acoustics to devastating bursts of power via most imaginable points between, the songs yaw and fluctuate, with nothing ever standing still for too long. And while it doesn’t always work — the shuffling climax to Show A Little Love feels a little baggy, and the momentum lags during Reaching Out, as the song drifts towards a conclusion instead of snapping sharply into focus — the set is still a dynamic, dramatic experience.
Kicking off with Tear You Up (every track on last year’s Your Wilderness album is performed, with the exception of closer Where We Stood), it’s a song that utilises many of the moves in The Pineapple Thief playbook: the brief, cascading acoustic introduction, the crunching guitar that follows, the yearning vocal, more crunching guitar, and the slow build towards a climax that packs a seriously metallic wallop. It’s big music for big rooms, and hiring the brilliant Harrison has given the band the necessary poise and power to cope. He drives The One You Left To Die along with a simmering intensity, and after taking a back seat for much of No Man’s Land, his spins around the kit underpin a frantic finale.
Alone At Sea is lovely. It’s a gentle, hazy wash of tranquil keyboards and subtle, scattered beats climaxing in a delicately plucked solo from Charles, and Soord compliments the audience for their silence (and for not taking photographs, as polite men in high-vis vests roam the audience quietly requesting that people put their smartphones away). Take Your Shot raises the temperature with a chorus that almost approaches singalong territory, before the acoustic Fend For Yourself provides balmy respite. Part Zero, from 2003’s Variations On A Dream, fits into the set seamlessly, and it all climaxes with a joyous, uplifting romp through Simple As That and a quietly anti-climactic The Final Thing On My Mind. The band return for Snowdrops, with the crowd providing handclap accompaniment, before the spinning white lights and wobbling trance rhythms of Nothing At Best provide a suitably ecstatic finish. Next time, we’re going to need a bigger boat.