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IQ - Dark Matador 2005, North American Leg

Part 1 - The Medley, Montreal - 7th July 2005

It was with some surprise earlier this year that the news filtered out of Paul Cook's retirement from all things IQ. After a relatively short audition process, a new drummer was chosen to fill Paul's well worn drum stool - 23 years is a long time in anyone's book to have been associated with a single band. One Andy Edwards, a noted drum clinician and luminary of such projects as Robert Plant's Priory of Bryon took on this critical role within the band. Originally Paul was going to make his swansong on the first three dates of this tour with Andy taking over when the tour moved on to home territory. Paul eventually opted not to play these dates at all, leaving Andy to fill in at quite short notice - one audition and two rehearsals in fact. Much internet chit-chat revolved around this change of personnel: would he change IQ's sound; how would he fit in to the band relationships; indeed, was this even good for the band or not? The opening dates of the Dark Matador 2005 gave us a chance to find out for ourselves the answers to all these questions.

The tour kicked off at The Medley, Montreal on July 7th 2005. This venue has seen several progressive bands play there recently under the Proglands banner. It hosted The Flower Kings just a few short weeks before IQ's concert. It seems the Montrealers and Canadians in general have not seen a huge amount of International prog in recent years and they are all incredibly happy to see more bands pay a visit to their country. This was blatantly obvious from the fact that the queuing for the gig started about 1.00pm and by 4.30pm, there were around 40 - 50 fans patiently waiting in the humid Montreal afternoon; some of the early birds being invited in for the soundcheck to their great delight.

Unfortunately the start of the day was marred by the horrific news from London, casting a grave shadow over the proceedings. However, we were all the other side of the Atlantic, friends and families' safety was assured, there was nothing that could have been done by anyone and there were several hundred fans who had been waiting at least seven years to see the band return to Canada; a job was there to be got on with.

And what a job, perhaps some gremlins had also caught the transatlantic flights as the two dates were plagued with mishaps. Instruments promised to the promoter months before, suddenly turned out to be unavailable a week before the concert. Step forward Marc Girard, a long time fan of the band having bought his IQ ticket ages back, who graciously loaned his very rare Kurzweil synth. to Martin. One of the projectors so integral to the recent IQ shows, broke down with no warning. Never fear, the official Proglands photographer is a gadget freak and had a similar model at home that could take it's place, at least for one night.

After a support set from local favourites, Hamadryad who played prog metal in a Rush vein, the IQ set kicked off unsurprisingly with Sacred Sound to enormous cheers, whistles and noise in general. North American audiences tend to sit at concerts, either in theatre type rows or as in this venue, at small tables. I pondered whether the interaction between band and audience and energy generated at a more local gig might be missing here but I need not have worried. The Montrealers want to listen intently to their concerts but they equally want to show their appreciation of the music played, at the appropriate times i.e. after the songs. The band launched into that first song unhesitatingly, belying the seven month gap since they last played together and all but ignoring the fact that a very new member was now sitting amongst them.

Any doubters as to Andy's fitness for the role can leave right now, he is a terrific drummer having picked up the complex material very quickly and seemingly taking it all in his stride despite admitted nervousness. At this time he is certainly playing the material more or less as we have previously heard it and I'm sure with more gigs under his belt, he will stamp his own unique mark upon it.

A full two minutes ovation greeted the close of Sacred Sound before Peter could say - in French, for we are in French Canada here - how happy the band were to be back in this part of the world. Next up, the oldie-but-goody, It All Stops Here. This saw the first appearance this evening of John Jowitt's bouncy stage presence. Oh and was that a bit of head banging from Mike? Slowing the pace down a little, Leap Of Faith came next, a chance for the audience to relax a bit and enjoy another splendid Mike Holmes solo. Moving back to more recent material, Born Brilliant cast an oppressive and heavy atmosphere over the venue. I for one welcome this return to the 'dark side' of the early years and hope that future albums retain this edge.

Changing emotions for something more wistful and deep, the now standard Seventh House was given it's first North American airing. It is particularly during this piece that you realise how seamlessly the projections are integrated into the show, making for something greater than the usual lights and flashes. I've seen grown men cry during this song and this is entirely due to its multi-media interpretation. So, huge kudos can go to the members of the team, Dene and Andy who put together and operate this side of things.

At this point Peter publicly introduced Andy to the audience and welcomed him into the band, allowing him a short but perfectly formed drum solo leading into the only representation tonight from the Menel years, No Love Lost. With encouragement from Peter and John, the audience started enthusiastically clapping along although they still remained seated and they were happy enough to yell out the chorus as Peter repeatedly pointed the microphone towards them.

Perhaps one of the IQ trademarks is the musical interplay and light and shade between Mike and Martin, a process honed over many years. The following number, Widow's Peak amply demonstrated this facet again to us all. Maybe also, it could be said that the material chosen for this tour is 'safe' with proven crowd pleasers interspersed between the required Dark Matter numbers. The reality though is that IQ were playing to audiences that had either never heard the band before or had limited opportunities to hear them and as such, the set list was amply justified

In the tradition of playing live sections taken from some of the longer epics, the melodic middle part of The Narrow Margin was accompanied beautifully by the parade of images on the triple screens. These taken from the original Subterranea projections. This naturally just served to remind me how much I'd like to see that show go out live again - oh, I can dream, can't I?

Keeping the atmosphere stilled and calm, Guiding Light flowed easily from the last number, allowing Martin's beautiful piano sounds to accompany Peter's almost ballad like verses. This is certainly a song of two halves and while the first half belongs to Martin, the second half definitely belongs to Mike. The instrumental section building in complexity and again showcasing Mike and Martin's ability to play against and with each other before returning to the stately chorus of the first section.

The air of anticipation had heightened now and those familiar with IQ material were pondering the question, will they play Harvest Of Souls in North America with it's ambiguous stance on US politics and if so how would it be taken? Well of course they would, how could the highlight of the most recent album be left out of the set? Peter introduced it, the final number, not as a political song but one about the future of children, a worthy explanation of its lyrical content. Whilst the projected material had been changed slightly from that which we saw at the back end of last year, it was no less thought provoking. The experience encouraging analysis of the theme as a whole and not from a singular viewpoint.

Harvest sets out IQ's entire stall in one number, alternating lyrical sections with heavier instrumental passages. There are all the time changes required by any seasoned prog fan and every permutation of mood. Each member of the band gets to do their thing within it. From John's staccato bass explosions and Andy's pinpoint rhythm keeping through to the aforementioned guitar/synth telepathy, the whole topped off with Peter's emotional deliveries. I have to say that he just gets better and better in a live situation, the colds and sore throats that plagued previous key dates seemingly warded off this time to produce a voice that sounded unforced and highly comfortable with the material.

The standing ovation was a given, the audience had waited a long time for this concert and they really wanted to show their thanks. However we all knew it was not really the end and seconds later the band reappeared to start the encores with another old favourite, Awake & Nervous. By this point it was obvious to all present that the band were simply having a ball on this, their first concert of 2005. Smiles all round from the stage and the usual horseplay between the more mobile members of the band showed just how much they were enjoying themselves again. There was no let up in the energy between this number and the next, Outer Limits continued the vibe perfectly. Another standing ovation, another swift disappearance and then the return of Peter and Martin to give us the gentle middle section of The Last Human Gateway. In the darkness, the rest of the band quietly appeared to play the rousing climax of that section of Gateway and to lead into the final, number, The Wake, John in particular taking great pleasure in playing to the audience. With everybody giving it their all for the last few minutes of the concert, this song indicated that Andy's baptism of fire was now over and his place within the IQ team assured.

There could be no more songs played despite the Montrealers entreaties as Andy simply did not know any more material so the audience had to be happy with congratulating the band after the show and requesting signatures on all sorts of IQ merchandise both old and new. There was not a soul in the house who hadn't witnessed one of the great IQ performances and after some of the troubles getting this show off the ground, confidence was high for the following performance at NEARfest. Little did we know that the gremlins had only just started their devilish work upon us.........

[SCROLL DOWN FOR PART 2]
 

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IQ

Part 2 - NEARfest, Bethlehem Pennsylvania - 9th July 2005

Happy that the first date of the tour had gone exceedingly well despite obstacles, the next day, the band and assorted other interested parties convened outside The Medley to pick up a coach that had been booked to drive down from Montreal to Pennsylvania. This was a fine idea in principle, the plan being to travel in the relative comfort of a deluxe coach with bench seating and a DVD player for light relief. The trip was supposed to be relaxing, a chance for the whole party to mingle, chat to each other and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

The gremlins first showed their mischievous little faces when, on boarding the coach, the seating turned out to be in rows rather than the facing seats we had been promised. At this point let me say that this was not the fault of the organisers, the coach company sent a
different coach to that which had been booked and there was simply no time to get a replacement sent. This small set back aside, everyone boarded in good spirits and an hour later than scheduled, at 9.00am, we set off for the USA. Soon we also discovered that the DVD unit was actually a VHS player and naturally nobody happened to have any good tapes on them. 'Oh well', we said, 'not the end of the world'. Montreal is only a short drive from the border and so within an hour and a quarter, still quite chipper, we duly pulled into the US Customs checkpoint...........and there we stayed.

We were obviously aware of the tragic happenings in London the previous day and so were prepared to be examined with extra scrutiny. we thought it might take us a couple of hours, no-one expected to be stuck on the coach for what turned out to be around five hours. That's completely stuck on the coach, without being allowed off to stretch legs and with scant information regarding the whole process coming our way. Equally we knew that making a fuss and being difficult would not get us through quicker, so stoicism and patience were dragged up from reserves long forgotten. Eventually we were dealt with and once in the system, we were finally on our way after a further 3/4 hour with - I am lead to believe from people who do this journey more often than I do - unusual politeness and co-operation from the Customs officials.

Most of the rest of the journey took place in a subdued fashion, the tension finally being broken when we pulled in unexpectedly to a truck stop deliciously named Betty Beavers, complete with three dimensional sign picturing Betty and a menu full of 4th form double entendres. Sated and with senses of humour recharged, the intent was clear now, we just wanted to get there. At 1.00am, some 16 hours after setting off, we eventually rolled up outside the auditorium in Bethlehem.

NEARfest - North East Art Rock Festival, a highly prestigious date for the band. Particularly in this case as they were the first band to be invited back to play there since the festival organisers scrapped their 'no repeat bands' policy. This again was an audience of a completely different type, many of them taking the 'Art' of the festival name very seriously indeed. To be honest, from the comments I heard and the people I spoke to, the audience seemed polarised between those who were greatly looking forward to seeing IQ and those who couldn't give a monkey's cuss. Headlining that same Saturday night of arrival, it was obvious there was still a major amount of work ahead.

Saturday was indeed another day and aware that the night's performance was being filmed, everyone pulled together to ensure as professional a show as possible. Having had a plethora of styles in the four preceding bands, come show time, the audience was filling up the 2000 seater auditorium nicely. Tiredness forgotten, an hour later than scheduled due to previously overrunning sets, the band ran on confidently to the familiar strains of Sacred Sound.

From the off it was apparent something was badly wrong. Mike checking his equipment before even Peter had sung the first line. Feedback, shaking heads and worried glances; all clues to an unpleasant situation. When members of the band started disappearing offstage to have hurried conversations with the crew it must have been obvious to a good portion of the audience as well. From the front, it was hard to tell exactly what it was that was wrong. The sound didn't seem quite right but it was very hard to put a finger on the inconsistency. Carrying on through Sacred Sound, with several notes of the bum variety and muffed lyrics from Peter, the band was visibly disconcerted and ill at ease. Seemingly relieved just to get to the end of the song - never had it seemed so long - the applause must have been a welcome respite.

Things started to settle down a little during It All Stops Here. Peter becoming more energetic in his performance whilst still having a face like thunder. He then began building a rapport with the audience by talking about the first time they had played the States, twelve years ago. From the cheers, there appeared to be quite a few people present who had witnessed that occasion. Into Leap Of Faith and slowly the show started to gel, Born Brilliant passed adequately but there was no sense of enjoyment emanating from the stage. During The Seventh House, those gremlins were back well and truly, crashing and banging behind the scenes, punctuating the song with their devilry. This seemed to mark the turning of the corner for the band as for the second time in two days they dug deep within themselves to overcome situations not of their making. Musically, this version of The Seventh House must rank as one of the best ones I've seen with every band member finding something extra to give. Mike in particular performing a blistering solo at the end of the song.

No Love Lost filled the vast room with energy and led into Widow's Peak, marred only by the houselights inexplicably being turned full on twice; the first occasion for a good minute. Thankfully this was the last of the mishaps and from this point onwards, each song grew in atmospherics from its predecessor. Finally IQ sounded like a band headlining a sold out festival. Next, the middle section of Narrow Margin, heartfelt and working perfectly, excised from its parent. The following number, Guiding Light takes on an extra intensity played live, It was never my favourite album cut but I enjoy it more each time I see it performed, particularly the instrumental section and tonight was another Mike & Martin tour-de-force.

Then to the centrepiece of the set, Harvest Of Souls, with all the weight it carries. Peter's emotional delivery brought the narrative down to a personal level removing the controversy and focusing attention on the song itself. The only bit of 'theatrics' present in the set coming at the end with Peter donning white lab coat and sunglasses for the last section. while the only hangover from the earlier part of the show being John's reluctance to throw himself into it with his usual abandon.

The huge applause from the audience signalled their enjoyment. If they seemed less enthusiastic than the previous Canadian audience, then I think that can be put down to the cavernous nature of the venue against the more intimate feel of The Medley. Certainly the following day, I heard nothing but praise for the performance, even from overheard comments. The only slightly dissenting voice belonging to the punter I heard describe it as 'more like a proper rock show' which in itself is not the worst thing that could be said.

Returning for the encores, Awake & Nervous at last galvanised the front three band members into full stage exploration and the first evidence of them truly enjoying themselves started to become apparent. At the end of the number Mike launched into the usual Status Quo guitar bit but stopped hesitantly when the clapping along, normally instantaneous, failed to arrive. I've since been told by a Quo fan that the States never took the Quo to their hearts - their loss.

After a (mostly) standing ovation, Martin and Peter reappeared to demonstrate to the audience the contrast within the band's material. The middle section of The Last Human Gateway counterpointing beautifully the balls-out excesses of the previous number. The simplicity of the vocal/piano arrangement perfectly illustrating that it is the songwriting that defines a band's heart. Applause broke out even before Martin had brought the piece to its elegant close.

Finally, The Wake brought the show to an end. With a little encouragement from Peter, something apparently unheard of at NEARfest occurred; the audience stood up for the song and began clapping along. Now while in the venues of Europe this is almost a pre-requisite, I had seen that this was not the case in North America, the NEARfest audience allegedly being more than a little reluctant to remove themselves from their comfort zone. Unquestionably from an audience point of view, the show had been a resounding success. But how did the band feel?

Immediately afterwards, a signing session had been organised upstairs. By the time I made my way up there, a considerable queue had formed and instructions were being given - which were then duly ignored by most - to only ask two of the band members to sign any given piece of memorabilia. This before any of the band had even arrived for the signing. One by one, the band members appeared with John being the last, again the most reluctant and still visibly upset. Slowly the saga of the evening revealed itself. It seemed that despite having finished the sound check with all the equipment checked and ready only 15 minutes before the show actually went up, by the time the band hit the floor, the onstage monitoring had been turned down to zero. Now the reason for the band's discomfort was obvious, they simply couldn't hear each other.

It couldn't have been the easiest thing to get over to the baffled crew and I have no idea exactly when full service was restored to the band. Andy was quoted as saying that it wasn't until the second last number that he could get any sound over his headphones. If indeed that was as long as it took to bring back full stage functionality then that just makes the performance as a whole that much stronger. Surprisingly, the following day, a large number of the people I spoke to, indicated that they were unaware of any problems at all excepting the obvious crashes and feedback moments. Praise for the show was practically unanimous. Maybe a less experienced band might have foundered in this situation. It amply demonstrates the professionalism of each and every member of the band, that they were able to work together and pull off a successful show despite this possibly deliberate setback.

What happened? Who knows. Maybe an accident, maybe not. Rumours abounded but the truth was sadly elusive. Just one of those things that happens in the Rock and Roll world. Other details also came to light. John had good reason to look extremely unhappy through most of the set. A variety of things: humidity, borrowed instruments had combined disastrously when he lost the top layer of skin from the tips of the fingers of his right hand during the first number. After the show, they were red raw and it must have been uncomfortable in the extreme for him to carry on and play a whole set. Also, spare a thought for Andy, on only his second gig with the band. What kind of nightmare must he have thought he was in?

Nonetheless, the enthusiasm emanating from the signing queue was contagious and gradually with the plaudits being heaped upon them, the band finally relaxed and admitted that maybe it hadn't been quite as bad as they'd thought. Make no mistake, this was a serious and important show and the IQ of the London Xmas gigs was far distant tonight. In its place, a band capable of turning round a difficult technical situation and winning over a usually undemonstrative audience. Yes, that night I saw another IQ altogether.

Jane Vincent
 

 

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