The Pineapple Thief plus Narration

It was another great night at The Peel for a House Of Progression gig.  They have started off 2009 with all guns blazing – first we had Tinyfish with Sine Star Project, then last weekend’s Panic Room and Jump, and now we had the exciting prospect of the return of The Pineapple Thief, after their excellent gig here last year, with support from the up and coming Narration.
I had checked out Narration on their MySpace page and been impressed with the tracks they had up on there, and also with the online following they are building up. What I was not prepared for is that live they are infinitely more impressive than that !  They looked very calm coming on to the stage, but the easily engaging frontman, Dan Holt, was clearly suffering from nerves as this “golden-haired Voice of the Heavens” started a soft intro before anyone really noticed, but what a wonderful intro, a sublime melody and you just know that at some point this track is going to explode…and it does, into a great sound, it really rocks, filled with passion, flowing into another softer part before building into a stunning climax.  The crowd reaction indicates that they are taken !  A guitar intro from Simon Macson takes us into the medium paced River, busy drumming from Al Oliver, he’s driving this track along, the guitar melody added to by some very fine keyboards from Paddy McNicholas – and for me some of the pauses within the track have a Rush feel to them, if that makes any sense !  Dan has it spot on before Gentle when he says “I think this is going to be a lot of fun”, and a deceivingly soft intro moves into some hard hitting drums, the song powers away, it’s like Coldplay with a real edge, anthemic at times, before fading to an end.  One thing I would say is that they need to think about how they end their songs, because at times tonight you can feel the audience want to applaud, but are not sure if the track has ended, or just gone into a false lull – interestingly, though, speaking with Simon after the gig he said at times they just want to play through from the first song to the last, no gaps, no pauses, just an intense experience.  Wear Your Hair Down has a considered keyboard intro which is picked up by the guitar, a breezy feel before the drums kick in, taking us to an upbeat ballad feel, then Paddy comes in on the bass – and it is incredible to think that the bass very rarely features in their set – leading us to a bombastic climax and then quiets to an end.  “It’s funny how little ideas can lead to making such a raquet”, Dan says, before wondering aloud if he should have introduced the song at the beginning rather than the end.  Always Winter sees Dan on acoustic guitar, and its a brand new number, upbeat, medium tempo, layered, challenging, goes through stages into a brighter hopeful ending.  These are not three minute throwaway pop songs – these are solid compositions, structured, intelligent, lyrics with meaning, technical excellence in the musicianship – they will hate me for using the phrase, but this is everything that ‘progressive rock’ should be.  Dan has built up an easy rapport with the crowd, “it’s like a weather forecast, this next one’s called Miracle and is also about the snow”.  A feedback intro, Al’s drums are racing away, Simon’s guitar is building on a heavy power chord opening – oh, the guitar sound is deep and dark, and Paddy’s keyboards are providing some light on top of that, and then it breaks into a softer guitar sound, moulding with the keyboards before cutting off into a heavy, edgy guitar solo.  It’s their new single, and though the production has it a little scaled down from this live epic, you should get it – there was a queue of people waiting to get it last night, and I heard Keith Harrison wanted a copy.  Please Show Me The Lights is also on the single, a soft, spacey opening, very atmospheric with a dark edge, some deep bass lines coming from the keyboards.  It breaks into an indie sound on the guitar, a lighter feel, like it has broken free, but there is still a dark undercurrent from the keyboards.  It races away, the drums and guitar taking it forward, some lighter touches from the keyboards before those big bass sounds are back, and some sublime guitar work moves us into a very big finish, crescendo layered upon crescendo to build to that climax, and that Voice of the Heavens is really let loose.  I thought that was the end of the set, and I am sure I was not alone in being pleased to hear “we’re going to play one more song”, and New York City (or it could simply be NYC) has a slower start, mainly vocals, some guitar breaks from Simon, using his EBow to great effect, a big bass drum sound, a splendid atmosphere growing around the track, the drums building it, vocals rising, a big guitar sound, before it quietens, falsely, because then another magnificent crescendo into a climax which capped an outstanding performance.  They very well suited The Pineapple Thief and clearly picked up some new fans in the audience.  I do not think it is hyperbole to suggest that Narration could be massive – their music is capable of crossing over through a number of the wider rock genres, and they are very easy to talk with afterwards, eager to discuss musical matters, full of enthusiasm for what they are doing.  You can catch them next at the Water Rats in Kings Cross, London, on 19 February.  I will be there.
The place is packed, and it is a surprisingly young crowd towards the front (myself excepted, naturally), which is a promising thing to see, and they are nicely warmed up now – and The Pineapple Thief do not disappoint, even if it is a somewhat bizarre opening to the set, with Bruce Soord asking “does anyone know any roadies ? We really need a roady – any volunteers see me after the show” – so we move from whimsy to the light intro of Shoot First, before Keith Harrison’s drums come in and the track hits home with that glorious guitar break from Bruce. Jon Sykes’ bass sounds bigger, funkier in this live environment, and the song flows, floats, gaining substance from Steve Kitch’s keyboards.  It’s a great start to the set.  And then, once Bruce has retuned his guitar, they vere from the setlist, leaving this poor reviewer momentarily confused, but thoroughly enjoying Part Zero from the Variations On A Dream album.  A powerful start, very clear melody, thumping bass, some exquisite keyboards creating a wonderful atmosphere which takes us into the guitar breaks, and then into the most sublime guitar solo, Bruce making it all look effortless, holding notes before allowing them to float away.  Tightly Wound, from the excellent 2008 album of almost the same name, features some great effects on the vocals, a haunting quality to the guitar sound, and just when you feel the guitar wants to escape the superb drumming holds it in, and keeps the structure within the song.  What with the snow and everything this week, I have been listening to Little Man a lot, so it was a pleasure to hear Boxing Day, and quite rightly Bruce dedicated it to Mick Lloyd, without whom these excellent House of Progression gigs would not be happening.  The song itself is beautiful, a softer number with a very melodic opening, some great keyboards tonight – but I can hear people chattering at the back !  There really is no excuse to talk over the music at this venue, because you can easily go to the back bar area and still have your chat without disturbing those who want to appreciate the music.  I shut it out and drift off with the song, and they go straight into God Bless The Child (even if it does say America on the setlist), another from Little Man, very percussive, frantic, a clean sound, powerful, and such a sustained ending.  Kid Chameleon is from the 137 album, and tonight Bruce dedicates it to Malcolm Parker, the head of Cyclops Records, who “got us to where we are”.  Before they launch into the song Bruce says he is “glad we made it up the M3, it’s been worth it”, and then they start, stop to sort out Bruce’s guitar (“this guitar’s going in the cupboard”) and then they are off again, into an interesting combination of guitar and keyboards before it explodes, and then takes us into that floating feeling again, the song pushing off and rising, layer upon layer as it grows into a finely crafted guitar solo, takes on a heavier feel and then glides down to an end.  Different World never fails to creep up on me, and then those piercing cymbals – it’s an epic track, and tonight’s Keith’s drumming within it was immense – it never fails to amaze me how he gets so much from so limited a drumkit.  You have to wonder whether Bruce was in a trance, though, as he bangs his head on his microphone during the first guitar break.  And we continue with another from Tightly Unwound, a feedback intro taking us into Sinners, with even more of a drawl sound to the guitar than on the album, and an interesting turn of events as Bruce drops his plectrum, carries on without one, then grabs another from his back pocket – and you wouldn’t notice from how smoothly the track continues.  Snowdrops sees some more technical glitches, this time Jon needing to change a battery, which means he misses the cue to start the clapping, but the day is saved by the guy behind me who takes up the clapping for him – Jon is able to play his part, though, recovering Bruce’s lost plectrum, and so we continue.  I have to be honest, the band are just SO tight at the moment they stroll through such adversity.  And as Bruce muses “are you dragging us out of the underground ? Maybe it’s time…”, you have to think that it really is time, and that the next 12 months should be very exciting times for the band, and we carry on into And So Say All Of You, a powerful ballad with a rawness to it tonight, and a wonderfully subtle ending.  Too Much To Lose is the epic which closes the Tightly Unwound album, and it is closing the set tonight, dedicated to the engineer at The Peel, “the best we’ve worked with”, and they are not the first band I have heard saying that about him.  This is such a wonderfully tricky track on so many levels (and did I really hear Keith miss a beat ?  If I did, it was the only one missed all night), the keyboards building the atmosphere tonight, that great buzzing bass sound from Jon as the track takes off, and Steve has got a pineapple shaped shaker, though I always thought it was push pinapple, shake the tree.  But this is no Agadoo, and even if Bruce is ‘only’ using an ordinary slide tonight, the sound he is producing is extraordinary.  The track grows over and over, building to a stunning ending and Bruce exits stage left quickly.  Of course there must be an encore – an outstanding performance like that demands it, and they come back on, not for Vapour Trails, because Jon does not like it (the truth it out now), but for the delightful The World I Always Dreamed Of, with its wonderful melodies, just such a beautiful experience.  It’s a brilliant track to return with.  Then some good news from Bruce, “someone bought me a pint so we have to do one more”, and it’s Light Up Your Eyes, which for me follows on perfectly from TWIADO, even if there is more chattering at the back !  Steve’s keyboards are lovely, and you cannot fail to be moved by Jon’s harmonica part, such a soft sound helping us into the lengthy, sustained climax.
I thought The Pineapple Thief were on top form in Oxford towards the end of last year, but they were even better here tonight.  It was an excellent set performed with a relaxed ease, the band at one with a great audience, and it was a pleasure to see them at such a high level in an environment like this – bigger audiences and bigger venues must be on the cards now.

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