Magenta, The Borderline, London, 8th September 2006
The Borderline is fast becoming THE venue in London to play for mid-league prog bands. Just as well it's there given the proposed demolishment of the Astoria complex; soon there may be very few central locations left where bands of Magenta's standard can play.
Smaller in capacity than the Mean Fiddler but ever so much more salubrious, at least you don't risk death by green alien fungus venturing to the loos here.
Tonight Magenta play a no-support, Magenta-only show. That's 2 1/2 hours of Christina, you lucky old prog fans! Split into two sections, the first concentrating on older material; the draw for tonight has to be the second section where the band aim to play the latest album, Home, in pretty much its entirety.
No one could ever call keyboard meister and band Head-Boy Rob Reed un-ambitious; this project has reached for the skies since its inception. He's a canny lad, old Rob, picking one of the best voices around in Christina Booth for yodelling duties and finding Chris Fry to fill the main string plucker role gives him two trump cards to play, and play they do in a live environment. So it's a shame to find that the Borderline is not at capacity when the band takes to the stage for their opening number, King Of The Skies (from the I'm Alive EP), which gets the evening off to a nice energetic, start.
Ripping through the best of the back catalogue next, Gluttony with all the keyboard twiddles a progger could want, Broken - and my personal favourite from Seven - Envy preceded that old crowd pleaser I'm Alive which comes across as much rockier live than on shiny silver disc.
The first half highlight though has to be Children Of The Sun. All 20 minutes of it providing contrast and mood with some lovely vocal interplay between Christina and Rob and whoops and hollers from the audience in places. The song gets a magnificent groove going in places and if they can do this on a track rarely played live, one wonders what they could produce should they choose to gig more often.
Anger, with some Spanish Guitar and that ever-present bane of modern prog - a strong Pink Floyd feel - wraps up the first section. Whilst Magenta have always suffered from (valid) accusations of being derivative, Floyd was never one of the old guard that they were compared to before, so it's with a touch of sadness that I see tinges of Floydiness creeping into their playing. It's the Giant Hogweed of musical styles, getting in everywhere un-noticed until it becomes impossible to remove without damaging everything surrounding it.
Without breaking for refreshments, the band launch into the Home section. With this album, they've thrown away some of the more twee aspects that pervaded the previous two albums - this is a modern concept album for modern proggers; we'll have no fey witchery here. The compositions and arrangements while still in the Magenta mould are more accomplished and confident and the rehearsals have paid off. Many of the tunes have had live outings previously and they are performed with the same sense of assurance as the older material.
Ignoring the shorter linking tunes from the album, the main bulk of Home is showcased in album running order to keep intact the story of a woman travelling to America in order to find that she really needs to be back where she started. The more emotional aspects of this saga shine through in Christina's delivery and the length of the piece as a whole allows each band member their moment within it.
Of the songs in this section, Demons came over particularly well with its Steve Hackett flourishes. When further albums are released in the future I can see this song still having a place in their live repertoire. Chris Fry lets go here with an impassioned solo. Sometimes described as a bit of a show off, I see only a man who is good at his craft, plays from the heart and desperately wants to share the music with his audience.
Morning Sunlight having more of an acoustic feel allows the poor man a bit of a break as Martin Rosser concentrates on guitar duties counterpointing Christina's vocals. The build up in the last few tracks is nicely done with Joe a touch heavier and proggier than on the recorded version. By far the shining star in the second half is the climax of the piece, Journey's End. Never before played live, although you wouldn't know it, it is a sheer joy to watch the interplay between Chris Fry and Martin Rosser as they and the rest of the band effectively bring Home home.
Closing off the mammoth set with Pride and an encore of Sloth, Magenta can feel justifiably proud of their accomplishments. 2 1/2 hours is a long old time to be playing and indeed for the audience, listening and watching but careful choices in the setlist ensured that attention rarely wavered.
The only remaining question being, why are Magenta still playing venues of this capacity? Having seen them several times at the Borderline now, I would have thought that they were well overdue a trade up to the Mean Fiddler. However, as I said earlier, this venue wasn't completely full and even seemed to thin out a bit during the set. Either that or the audience had crammed themselves into the front half like teenagers avoiding their parents - all the better to appreciate Ms Booth one assumes. There is no reason on earth why Magenta shouldn't have a bigger London audience and I can simply surmise that it's the general apathy of the British prog audience failing to go out and support live bands.
Magenta remains one of the most entertaining bands on the circuit. What's not to like about them with Christina providing the main demographic of prog - frankly, middle-aged men - with superb eye candy and for the ladies amongst the audience, the ever-watchable Chris Fry showing that you don't have to stand in one spot to be a proficient guitarist. And let's be honest here, the rest of the band were hardly knocked by the ugly stick on the way down the tree. The music, while not the most challenging is complex enough to keep a prog fan rooted to the ground for a couple of hours. Personally, I would rate them far above the other main female fronted prog draw, Mostly Autumn, so it's a mystery to me why the two bands' live audiences are so far apart in numbers. I can only blame the generic prog fan for not taking a chance on a decent night out.
Perhaps as a friend of mine suggested, it's that Magenta tend not to be anyone's favourite band, more that everyone likes them well enough but they haven't yet inspired the devotion that marks out the hard core. I don't understand that myself but prog audiences are fickle and whim and will refuse to be pinned down.
Maybe it's because they don't drink enough. After the show, Christina brought beers out to my table explaining that 'they had too many backstage!' Now you wouldn't get that at a Porky Tree gig! Magenta - the band that gives you a damn good night's entertainment and beer into the bargain. Go see them at your next opportunity but don't hold them to the free beer.
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