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Saturday 18th March 2017
Rock City in Nottingham, UK
Reviews & Photography by Mark Holmes
I was seemingly in a minority when I reviewed Leprous' last album, 'The Congregation'. I praised its strengths; for it is a strong album, but not their strongest... at least in my opinion. Others, however, seemed to rather excited by the release, including the band themselves, whereby they declared it as their best work to date (but doesn't every band and artist with each new work?). For me, it adhered to too many established prog idioms; a more regressive and generic vibe in parts, and not always reaching the heights of the genuinely progressive mastery that the Norwegians have succeeded in crafting on prior albums. However, that was until I heard the songs live in Rock City this evening... now, it all makes sense. Through performance, each of 'The Congregation' tracks aired is awash with swathes of moving melancholy and other emotional depths. Far more than can be heard in songs' recorded counterparts. And with Leprous' set strongly biased towards this material (save for an outing of 'Foe' from 'Coal'), it's fortunate that it does shine in the live environment. This is largely due to Einar Solberg's wide ranging voice. He reasserts himself, tonight, as one of the best vocalists in the business, with the range of his tonality, pure emotional essence and quirky inflections matched by a rare few.

Even though they made the transition from support act to headline band a few years ago, it seems Leprous are still content to jump on a bigger tour bandwagon in attempts to expose their music to different, and wider, audiences. And Rock City is refreshingly busy at the early time of 6:30pm when Leprous take to the stage, so there's a respectable number of people that the Norwegians seem to win over with their songs and performance. I guess the band themselves regard 'The Congregation' as more representative than their previous works, in terms of where they're at as a band right now, but a nod in their set towards 'Tall Poppy Syndrome' and/or 'Bilateral' would've been nice. Such is the nature of short support slots, I suppose. Although, if the aim is to widen your own fanbase by playing to another band's crowd, then you'd surely be better off showcasing the full breadth of material in your back catalogue? However, I suspect fans hold Leprous' earlier work in higher regard than the band themselves.

Cramped at the front of the stage, with little room to move around, Solberg and co. do engage in a little headbanging... but it does all feel a little low-key when compared to a usual headline Leprous set. Does their show lose anything without their projections; screens; extra space; greater energy levels, etc? I guess it does, but the music and its flawless performance is powerful enough to carry their set. And the audience seem happy to be taken along for the rich emotional journey that Leprous' music provides... so much melancholy... so many profound emotional depths... and emphatic affective peaks. This is not Leprous at their best but, nonetheless, it's a solid performance.
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Devin Townsend Project at Rock City in Nottingham, UK, 18th March 2017
Photograph copyright © 2017 Mark Holmes - www.metal-discovery.com
With Leprous a tough act to follow, would Tesseract and their music stand up against the Norwegian maestros? In short, no, not at all. A few cheers can be heard from the crowd as they appear on stage, although that's more emotion than the band themselves show tonight. Punctuating your songs, as Tesseract do, with too many technical flourishes, invariably has the corollary of distancing the listener. I guess it's mere coincidence that Tesseract is an anagram of "Tests Care", but it really does test how much I care. Not much, as it turns out. Some of the passages of technically executed widdle are to be admired yet, while it all looks and sounds impressive, it leaves me cold. Technical for technical's sake. I would say virtuosity, but true virtuosos combine a mastery of their instruments while still managing to convey profound emotional depths in their playing... Periphery are a prime example here, of doing it right, whereas Tesseract fail, bigtime. Instrumentally at least, anyway. And the band's members look disinterested in their own widdle-fest... apart from vocalist Daniel Tompkins. This is the man that saves Tesseract's set from pure mindless and boring sonic bilge, as he leaps around the stage and sings his arse off with a passion that's absent from his bandmates and songs' instrumentations.

Showy displays of your technical chops are all well and good, but you need the songs to back it up. Sure, there are moments of compositional astuteness that shine through some of the sterile virtuosity, but these are few and far between. It is here that Tesseract, for me, have consistently faltered. And their shortfalls are made even more emphatic this evening, following the might of Leprous. Sandwiched between the Norwegians and Devin Townsend was never going to be an easy slot to make your mark. As such, Tesseract function as nothing more than a blip in the evening's proceedings but, fortunately, it's only a fleeting blip.
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At 8:30pm prompt, the dimming of house lights sees a cacophony of crowd chatter transform into a euphony of cheers. And the cheers get louder as each of the Devin Townsend Project musicians, starting with drummer Ryan Van Poederooyen, assume their positions. Devin himself appears to the most emphatically rapturous outbursts of communal bliss around the venue, which sets the tone the next hour and forty minutes. When the DTP touring troupe roll into town and hit the stage, you're always guaranteed one big convivial party. And tonight is no exception. While the gig isn't quite sold out, the venue still seems to be bursting with punters; with people lining staircases, crammed onto the balcony, piled onto the dancefloor, and seemingly occupying every orifice of Rock City. Opener 'Rejoice', from 'Sky Blue', sounds like a heavy, yet feel-good, beast of a track in its live airing this evening, and the party's kickstarted good and proper.

With this being the final date of the tour, you'd think wariness and fatigue might be more evident from the DTP. Not so. Dev, somehow, has a simultaneous look about him of a tired, relieved, ecstatic man... yet succeeds in turning in a dynamic and energetic performance. I guess the adrenaline kicks in from the off, so you'd never know this was the end of a long stint on the road. And with a set that incorporates newer 'Transcendence' numbers such as 'Stormbending' and 'Failure', with a fleeting visit to 'Deconstruction' mania in the form of 'Planet of the Apes', brief 'Epicloud' serenity with 'Where We Belong' and perennial 'Addicted' favourite 'Supercrush!', it's a varied suite of tracks, to say the least. But, that's an inherent part of diverse Dev's back catalogue, and testament to all his musical divergences over the course of 2+ decades of creative prolificacy.

Some sort of brief mutterings about "testicles" and "bums" precedes 'March of the Poozers'.... the song about Dev's beloved creature creation of a scrotum/anus hybrid. And a crushingly heavy, emotionally compelling rendition of 'Physicist'/'Epicloud' number 'Kingdom' is a perfect way to close the pre-encore set. Dev's usual rambles about the age-old band-exit, crowd-demand-more, band-reappear, everyone's-so-utterly-astonished facade, pre-empt two encore numbers. The first of these is an undoubted set highlight. With Dev standing alone on the stage with just an acoustic guitar, he proceeds to perform an utterly beautiful version of 'Ih-Ah!' from 'Addicted'. The audience sing-along to the entire song, but Dev allows them to fly solo for a whole verse and chorus. And it's a tuneful bunch in Rock City this evening... everyone seems in perfect pitch. An incredible moment of unity. That's transcendence, right there.

The band then return for the second encore number - 'Higher', another from 'Transcendence'. During its lengthy duration, one guy does, indeed, get higher… by crowd surfing his way forward… and then lower… as security swiftly intervene and pluck him from the heads and hands of others. It's 10:10pm when the DTP wrap up... at which I'm surprised that the usually stricter curfew has been waivered. Pre-10pm is the usual finish time for a Saturday night in this place, to allow for load-out as well as clearing the gig punters in favour of shipping in the late night club crowd. Still, it's great that the DTP have been permitted their full set and, while it's not the best I've seen them in action, it's still one hell of a polished performance - one that ignited a party-fuelled vibe around the venue.
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