The Flower Kings & Sound Of Contact @ Leamington Spa Assembly Rooms 09/05/14

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As a progressive fan, my heart skipped a beat when I learned that Roine Stolt and The Flower Kings were coming to Leamington Spa Assembly rooms, a venue that has long been a favourite of mine thanks to its relaxed, friendly atmosphere and frequently passionate crowd. With an amazing new album (‘Desolation Rose’ – one of SonicAbuse’s albums of 2013) and a back catalogue that is an embarrassment of riches, there was no question that The Flower Kings would put on a good show, but when Sound of Contact were added to the bill it added up to an essential night on the progressive rock calendar. It was, therefore, with some sense of anticipation that SonicAbuse piled into the car and headed to the picturesque town of Leamington Spa on Friday 9th May  and it is fair to say that the evening not only failed to disappoint, but actively surpassed all expectations.

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Sound of Contact are a band who have to be heard to be believed. A heady mix of vintage Genesis and post-grunge guitar-driven fury, the band are quietly assured, preferring to let the music do the talking and letting their rich, warm tones wash over a rabidly appreciative audience. Simon Collins is a revelation, a musician who has inherited much of his father’s exquisite talent on both drums and vocals and who uses both to great effect across the all-too-short set. References abound and apart from Genesis, Porcupine Tree, Tool and Yes are all referenced, but ultimately Sound of Contact are so very special because each song inhabits its own mood and atmosphere, the band deploying huge, pounding drums on ‘Remote view’ whilst on the elegiac ‘I am dimensionaut’ Simon even follows in grand Genesis tradition and jumps behind a second drum kit to provide a powerful emotional and musical climax to a song that sticks in the head long after the band have finished playing. However, the real triumph of the set is the massive, mind-expanding epic ‘mobius slip’ which, at some twenty minutes or so doesn’t even come close to outstaying its welcome. It’s a wonderful, beautiful, glorious ending that sends much of the crowd into ecstasy and leaves no one in any doubt as to the simple power of music when it is played by musicians possessed of equal measures of talent and passion.

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As the stage empties at the conclusion of Sound of Contact’s remarkable set, the stunned crowd head to the bar for some much needed refreshment whilst The Flower Kings set up. Wandering amongst the crowd as if it is the most natural thing in the world after such a monumental performance, members of Sound of Contact chat with fans and sign merchandise which is a generous and very much appreciated gesture from a band surely destined for big things. Slowly the room fills back up as beer is dispensed and, before long, it is time for The Flower Kings to take to the stage.

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Opening with three tracks from new album ‘Desolation rose’ we get ‘Tower one’, ‘Desolation road’ and ‘The resurrected Judas’ in quick succession, each one easily outstripping the near-perfect studio versions thanks to the live energy radiating from the stage. The latter song in particular is, quite simply, a masterpiece as both Thomas Bodin (eccentric, dandyish keyboard player) and Felix Lehrmann (huge, humorous drummer) demonstrate talents that surely should beyond the realms of mere mortals. Across all three tracks, meanwhile, Hasse Froberg proves to be a powerful singer in the vein of the mighty John Wetton and Roine Stolt quietly dazzles on the guitar. Eschewing wild-eyed grandstanding for a more laid-back, humorous approach that will be familiar to fans of Opeth, the band steadfastly refuse to take themselves seriously in the between-song banter, turning a potentially frustrating guitar issue into yet another highlight of a night that was as near perfect as you could hope from a live show. For long time fans of the band, older tracks appear next (including abridged versions of ‘stardust we are’ and big puzzle’) but the largest cheer of the night is reserved for the epic opening track from ‘banks of Eden’, the twenty-five minute ‘numbers’ which simply crushes its studio counterpart with the band revelling in King Crimson-esque shifts and massive riffs. It is a performance that will surely live long in the heart of all who were present, and the encore (which included faithful covers of Pink Floyd’s ‘Echoes’, and Genesis’ ‘The cinema show’) not only sees the band incorporating members of Sound of Contact into the set but also sending an already ecstatic audience into orbit with a dazzling display of progressive musicianship that could not have been bettered.

To see two such excellent bands on the same bill in a venue such as Leamington Spa’s beautiful assembly rooms was surely a dream come true. The crowd was large and vocal, the sound as good as live sound gets and the performances from both bands exquisite and wonderfully complimentary. The Flower kings are old hands at this game (a joke they frequently make throughout the set) and yet their set is delivered with the youthful energy of a band out on the road for the first time – possibly a result of the exceptionally powerful new material – whilst Sound of Contact play with their hearts upon their sleeves, delivering potent versions of songs that have already worked their way into the consciousness of anyone fortunate enough to have bought their album. In short, both bands delivered sets that spoke into the very heart of music fans and for those lucky enough to have been present there is no doubt that it will take something very special indeed to better such a show.

Amazing photography courtesy of Jola Stiles

Review: Phil Stiles

If you’ve not seen / heard either band before – check out the videos below to see what you have been missing:

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