It’s rare that a major gig comes to Leicester, so it should be no surprise that the Musician pub, a small delight of a venue that is tucked away in one of the less-frequented areas of town, is absolutely rammed for a double bill of symphonic metal. Opening the night are Stream of Passion, the band formed by Arjen Lucassen that has now grown beyond the control of its creator to become a thrilling entity in its own right. The headliners are another Arjen project (the enigmatic artist is sadly absent from both acts), the elegant The Gentle Storm fronted by the wonderful Anneke Van Giersbergen and in the case of both acts the audience are clearly thrilled to have the opportunity to see two such amazing acts in so intimate a venue.
Stream of Passion may well be opening the night, but they have the songs and the stature of headliners nonetheless. In Marcela Bovio they are blessed with a frontwoman possessed of a captivating voice and yet no corresponding ego. The result is that the show, whilst tight and professional musically, has a wonderful air of fun about it and the communication between band members is a delight to watch. Playing a number of songs from their excellent new album (the crowd-funded ‘a war of our own’) as well as highlights from captivating debut ‘embrace the storm’, Stream of passion utterly win the crowd over and when guitarist Eric Hazebroek yells out “scream for me Leicester”, the place really does. With dreadlocked bassist Johan Von Stratum seemingly unable to keep his feet attached to the ground for more than a minute at a time and guitarist Stephan Schultz grinning away as he stands precariously at the edge of a stage that is not entirely big enough for a six-piece band, there’s a strong connection between band and audience which makes the show pass in a heartbeat. With songs like ‘spellbound’ and a particularly impressive ‘haunted’, not to mention crushing new songs like ‘monster’, Stream of passion have the crowd utterly captivated and they cannot return to the UK soon enough.
Whilst Stream of Passion are on their third release, The Gentle Storm (which features Stream of passion members Marcela on backing vocals and Johan on bass) have only just released their first album, the stunning ‘the diary’, so it was not entirely clear how the band would approach their headline slot. Would they throw in some covers? Would they play the album from start to finish? The answer is that the band dig deep into the illustrious back catalogue of not only Arjen, but also Anneke Van Giersbergen to deliver a frequently astounding set that has everyone present in rapture. Material from ‘the diary’, despite only having been released recently, is incredibly well received and seems to be well known by the audience. Initially it seems that the band are indeed going to play ‘the diary’ back to back. Opening with the albums opening couplet we get the amazing ‘endless sea’ (which benefits no end from Marcela providing backing vocals) followed by the more whimsical ‘heart of Amsterdam’. However, as the show progresses, it becomes apparent that things will not be so straightforward and after a rousing rendition of ‘the storm’ the band unleash a heavenly cover of The Gathering’s ‘Eleanor’. From then on the show becomes an amazing free-for-all with Anneke (“I look like Alice Cooper!”) delivering a pitch perfect version of Pink Floyd’s ‘wish you were here’ solo and acoustic; the band offering up a few ‘gentle’ versions from the album; a selection of Aryeon classics and even a Devin Townsend cover (‘fallout’). Along the way we get another Gathering cover (a stunning ‘strange machines’) and a simply astounding version of ‘shores of India’. You literally could not have asked for a better selection of songs. As for the band, there is no question that this is a group of musicians who are enjoying the hell out of touring this material. The interplay between Marcela and Anneke is wonderful and their voices are perfectly complementary, whilst Ferry Duijsens (who’s worked with Anneke before on the Agua de Annique project) and Merel Bechtold do a grand job of rendering the complex guitar work in the live environment.
In short, Leicester was treated to what was, in effect, a double headline show. Stream of Passion have, over the years, got better and better and, on their current form, they are arguably at the very peak of their powers. With the stunning ‘a war of our own’, the band have a hit a new creative high and they are one of those acts that simply leaves you feeling euphoric. As such, you’d imagine that The Gentle Storm would struggle to follow, but they have their own unique sound and style and thus the two bands end up being perfectly complementary with audience interaction remaining high throughout. It’s hard to imagine a better night out – The Musician is a wonderful venue (with a great selection of beers) and both bands put on shows that are best described using superlatives. If you have the opportunity to catch either act, then I urge you to do so, because this was one hell of a show.