Monday, January 21, 2008

Dark Angel in Cardiff

When Cardiff's The Reasoning announced that Breathing Space would be the support at the Cardiff gig of their January "Cabin Fever" tour, this gig became a 'must see' for me even though Cardiff was a long trek from Manchester. Around a year ago I saw both bands for the first time playing pub gigs in Swansea and York. They've both come an awful long way since then. Both bands delivered great albums in 2007, and The Reasoning are in the middle of recording their second album, "Dark Angel".

Cardiff's The Point is a redundant church converted into a rock club, and has great acoustics and atmosphere. It's just around the corner from Torchwood's HQ, but there are no extraterrestical visitors in evidence. However, on a wet Friday night the gig did attract a fair-sized crowd. I wasn't the only person who'd travelled a considerable distance; I met people who had come down from Birmingham, Cheshire, Durham and even The Netherlands.

Olivia Sparnenn
Olivia Sparnenn of Breathing Space

Breathing Space are the band formed by former Mostly Autumn keyboard player Iain Jennings and current Mostly Autumn backing singer Olivia Sparnenn. The first couple of times I saw this band, I thought they were an impressive live band held back by a lack of material that worked really well on stage. All this changed with the release of their much stronger second album "Coming Up For Air", and almost all of Friday's 45 minute support set came from the new album. Their mix of uptempo rock numbers and big soaring ballads has a bit of an 80s feel, only without the cheese. The sound is defined by Iain's cinematic keyboards, Olivia's fantastic voice, and Mark Rowan's tight and economical guitar work. The band played at least as well as I've ever seen them play, the musicianship extremely tight thoughout. Olivia Sparnenn is getting better and better both as a singer and as a frontwoman. This is a band that deserve to be a headline act at this size of venue before very long.

Lee Wright
Lee Wright of The Reasoning

Headliners The Reasoning are one of three bands that emerged from the ashes of the celtic-prog band Karnataka, who imploded in 2004. The band included Karnataka's former lead singer Rachel Jones, and former Magenta bassist Matt Cohen. They blend melodic hard rock with elements of prog-rock, but without ever descending into the sort self-indulgent widdling that gives prog such a bad name. The twin guitar attack of Lee Wright and Dylan Thompson rocks hard, while the triple lead vocals of Rachel, Dylan and Gareth Jones make some complex vocal harmonies making extensive use of counter-melodies.

Rachel Cohen (neé Jones)
Rachel of The Reasoning

When it comes to tight musicianship, high energy and emotional intensity, it's usually a case of 'pick any two'. For too many bands, you only get one of the three. On top form The Reasoning can give you all three, and they were on top form tonight.

They started the set with the Karnataka oldie 'Talk to Me'. Not the obvious choice for an opener, but it worked remarkably well. They followed with most of their debut album "Awakening" interspersed with some new numbers from the forthcoming "Dark Angel". If they don't do self-indulgence, they don't do po-faced either; quite a few jaws dropped when 'Chasing Rainbows' suddenly cut into a note-perfect version of Michael Jackson's 'Billie Jean' with vocals from Gareth and Rachel. The new numbers came over well, even though their complex multi-layered sound often takes a few hearings to fully appreciate. 'Dark Angel' itself sounded a lot like a Reasoning song called 'Dark Angel ought to sound, ventured into prog-metal territory, and reminded me a little of Dream Theater. They ended with their barnstorming cover of Deep Purple's 'Stormbringer' they'd played at quite a few gigs last year. If Gordonimmel is still wondering why I nominated 'Stormbringer' rather than 'Burn' in my top 5 air guitar songs, this is why.

My 2008 gig going certainly started with a bang. It's a pity music as good as this is so marginalised in indie-dominated Britain.

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