Live Review : Spock's Beard + The Flower KIngs @ Academy Club, Manchester on December 10th 2018

I regularly dip my toe into Prog and my signed vinyl copy of ‘Misplaced Childhood’ would be the thing I would save in a fire, but tonight I may be out of my depth as I am in serious hardcore Prog devotee territory. This is top shelf, sold in a brown paper bag, hundred percent proof, not for lightweights full strength stuff and this is an audience of devotees and connoisseurs, very much not the ‘I heard one song on the radio I thought I would check them out’ crowd. 

The Flower Kings are the monarchs of the long complicated multi-layered track, think vintage Yes and then add another half a dozen sudden shifts in time signatures and about half an hour (per track). They are the Dream Theater for those who think Dream Theater are a bit too simplistic and basic. Tonight they very much play to their audience. If you like this stuff, then you will think they are superb (and the enthusiastic audience response proves this). It is all painting a picture with music, long drawn out pieces with twists and turns and slow slow intricate bits that then morph into something completely different taking you down a rabbits warren of lush keyboards and subtle guitars. But if you are not a fan then it can come across as impenetrable and (sacrilege) just a little dull. My main emotion during the epic winding monstrosities of tracks (we get four-ish in an hour and half set) was one of the envy, as the predominantly middle aged male crowd were lost in rapture and reverence for the entire time and had evidently seen something in the slowly evolving music that frankly I wasn’t getting. Not a bad way at all to spend ninety minutes but I still found it hard to identify what it actually was about The Flower Kings and their sound that so captivated the crowd. Answers in the comments’ box below….

Before you start calling me a heathen and demanding that I should stick to reviewing Satanic Norwegian bands with indecipherable logos, I so totally get Spock’s Beard and the faultless and utterly gorgeous vocal harmonies warm of the cockles of my inner The Beach Boys devotee. This is still undeniably Prog but it has more 70’s rock vibe in that the songs tend to stick to the same musical pattern for the duration of that track. The guitar work is utterly fantastic and Alan Morse’s guitar solo on 'She Is Everything' is utterly sublime and makes you realise how underrated he is as his (now solo) younger brother Neil tends to get all the plaudits. With thirteen albums under their belt, Spock’s Beard have a huge amount of quality material to call upon and therefore each and every track is welcomed like a prodigal son, but even as a pervious non-believer (Burn him! Burn him! though you do need to get in a queue behind the Def Leppard fans) I find myself enthusiastically greeting each songs arrival as they are that good.

This is accessible but absolutely beautiful Prog, it may have less intricate tempo changes than The Flower Kings but it is still intelligent and immaculately constructed music. And talking of The Flowers Kings, they reappear for an end of tour shared encore of Hey Jude (it is initially Stevie Wonder’s Superstitious but that falls apart). Whilst Spock’s Beard were more to my taste, the fact that there is still bands like both of these who produce music that stretches the horizons of the listener is a joy to behold.

Words by Stewart Lucas
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki