Live Review : VOLA + Arch Echo + Rendezvous Point @ Rebellion, Manchester on September 8th 2019
Well recess is over and school is back in after summer. My festival tent has been retuned to storage and I am once again lurking in Rebellion like nothing happened (though video evidence does exist). Tonight it's modern progtastic heaven as a trio of bands, with not a member over thirty between them, prove that at the end of the 21st century's second decade Prog is indeed alive and high-kicking. Rendezvous Point are first out of the traps and straight away prove that there is more to Norwegian Metal than corpse paint and an unhealthy obsession with Satan. They share a member with Norway’s avant-garde prog uberlords Leprous, so from the off I am excepting random time signatures and sumptuous depth. What I get is still Prog, but a lot warmer and rawer than I expected. There is real charm to what Rendezvous Point are doing, it is not as precise or regimented as other Prog purveyors and instead feels natural and spontaneous. Rather than be slick and over produced, their stuff comes across as improvised and organic. Their approach to Prog may be more simplistic and accessible than what Baard Kolstad’s peddles in his day job, but it is the glutton of melody that makes them so enjoyable. By the end of the short set I am strutting my stuff and making a mental note to check out their new album.
There are five points of note about main support Arch Echo:
A) They are young, ludicrously young. They are the Bugsy Malone of Prog Bands.
B) All five of them are stunningly talented musicians. In fact I would use the word virtuoso. I watch with utter awe as fingers flutter across fretboards with both speed and precision. Everyone on stage is some kind of musical wonder kid.
C) They are having the times of their lives playing together. It felt like we as the audience were surplus to requirements. We didn’t actually need to be there, they would be having this much fun even if the room was empty.
D) They have a massive hard on for Dream Theater. Jesus, get a room guys. You could have easily sliced any of their tracks into whichever random Dream Theater number you fancied and nobody would have been any the wiser.
E) They use a lot of notes, thousands upon thousands of the buggers. In a forty minute set they dispense with more notes than Gojira have used in their entire carrier. They are packed into every track like sardines, note upon note, upon note, upon note until it becomes, well, tedious to be honest.
And that last point was my issue with their set. They may well have been five of the most impressive musicians I have had the privilege to see perform, but it was all a little dull if I am to be truly honest. Rather than playing songs with defined beginnings and ends (call me a traditionalist if you want), it felt like we got six instrumental excerpts from larger pieces of work. Stunning in their complexity and mindboggling in level of musicianship, just very little to actually get excited over.
The two key components of a great pop song are brevity and simplicity. Great pop should arrive in your head fully formed, exploding in your mind like a psychedelic sugar rush and then disappear leaving you begging for more. VOLA have come up with the awfully clever ploy of serving up the density and intelligence of Prog but within the confines of a short, sharp pop song. The result is simply majestic. Their material is dense and soaring but is presented in such small well-formed chunks that it never out stays its welcome. As was once said about the mighty Ramones “If you don’t like the song, don’t worry, there will be another one along in two minutes. VOLA’s A-ha plays Meshuggah mash up is sumptuous and they quite simply have the tune in abundance. Tonight, we get almost all of last years’ utterly awesome “Applause of a Distant Crowd”. Oddly it is only opener 'We Are Thin Air' and closer 'Green Screen Mother’ that are absent. Like they were planning a full rendition but forgot the front and back covers.
However, no matter how good the material is (and I can’t stress enough how brilliant and refreshingly original their ‘eighties Rush through a prism of modern Metal’ approach is) there is no denying that tonight there is a heavy dose of second night nerve. Their laid back and irreverent mannerisms seduced me at last year’s Bloodstock and Damnation and also on this year’s Haken’s tour. Tonight the expectation of being the main attraction seems to have taken some of the wind out of Asger Mygind sails. Usually he is verbose and dark humoured, tonight he seems over-awed by their lofty position. But believe me the stage craft will come. This is a band on the upward trajectory because, quite simply, they are serving up great music in an accessible format. By the reception they receive, they also have the beginnings of a fevered fanbase. We just need to get Asger to truly believe that he deserves the adulation and we will have a band that can take on all comers.
Words by Stewart Lucas
Photography by Johann Wierzbicki