Monday, 14 November 2011

11th November 2011: David Cross Band - The Peel, Kingston

Okay, I know it's only been a couple of days since I posted my last review, but back in real life, by Friday night it's been a full 11 days since my last gig. Things are so bad that I'm starting to get withdrawal symptoms - accompanied an uncontrollable urge to pogo around my living room.

Luckily, Facebook comes to the rescue and reminds me that just around the corner at the wonderful Peel in Kingston, there's a night of fabulous entertainment awaiting us, as there so often is. I like to tell people that proximity to the Peel was not a factor in moving to our current location, but that's a big lie which I'm sure nobody believes. Still, at least we only visit the main venue and not the dodgy place around the back, of which sometimes we are afforded a tantalising glimpse whilst ordering drinks in the bar.

It being a Friday, Karin and I have to work, and in addition we both end up working late, so unfortunately dinner takes precedence over seeing support band Credo, who we've seen at the Summer's End festival a few weeks previously in any case. After a bit of umming and ahhing, the chosen venue is Byron burger restaurant, primarily because they promise 'Proper Burgers' - although I'm not entirely sure that they ever explain what their competitors do which is such a crime against burger propriety. Perhaps they use Fairy liquid as relish, or make their buns out of tungsten. To be fair, it actually does knock spots off our local Gourmet Burger Kitchen, so perhaps they have a point.

After such a heavy dinner, a walk up to the Peel is well needed, and besides, it's always fun to watch the transformation of affluent Kingston into the more down-to-earth suburb of Norbiton as one passes the local landmarks of the Fighting Cocks pub, the upturned telephone boxes outside Wilkinsons, and the bizarre fish sculpture by the side of the road, which someone has helpfully designated as the entry point to Norbiton by manoeuvring an empty can of Special Brew into its jaws.

Once we arrive at the venue, we meet up with some familiar faces including James Allen with lady friend in tow - he tries his best to pretend that he doesn't know any of us prog nerds, but gets accosted and interrogated as soon as she nips to the bar. We're also pleased to see that he's brought his notebook because, as Karin points out, rather like trees falling in forests, if James isn't there to take notes at a gig, it probably doesn't happen.

And so, relatively quickly for me, we come to the music! The David Cross Band is a band led by David Cross (no, really), a superb Electric Violinist who played with King Crimson for several years in the 1970s and contributed to three of their most seminal albums, 'Larks Tongues in Aspic', 'Starless and Bible Black', and 'Red'. I wasn't actually aware that he had a band at all, however Frost* drummer and all-round percussion maestro Craig Blundell has been their drummer for a good few years now, so when he posts to Facebook that there'll be a one-off UK gig following a European tour, we immediately decide to go and check it out.

I'm not familiar with David's solo work at all, so have no idea what to expect. Will he have had a falling out with Robert Fripp along the way and refuse to play anything from his KC days? (There seems to be around a 80% chance of this having happened to any given King Crimson member, from what I gather.) Will the solo stuff be of interest to a Crimson fan? Will Blunders do his infamous demonstration of jazz drumming at any point?

Oh yeah, there's going to be more rubbish iPhone photography here -
mostly because this seems to have been the least photographed Peel gig
 of all time. Not one digital SLR down at the front - what's that all about?

The band takes the stage and David starts off the show by himself, with what sounds like some kind of classical violin piece that I can't quite place, but then it segues into something rather darker and the rest of the band joins in - and several jaws drop in unison. It's a unique setup as far as I know - dark, heavy rock music, sometimes with riffs approaching metal, but with electric violin taking the place (for the most part) of where a lead guitarist would normally be widdling away. And he doesn't just play the violin in a conventional fashion, no, he also makes it sound like lead guitar, then like something more electronic, and then like a radio being tuned in. Then he's frantically sawing away at it like a man possessed. I'd like to see Nigel Kennedy try that.

As for the rest of the band, there's some seriously meaty riffing from guitarist Paul Clark, wonderful keyboard textures from Alex Hall, and some very impressive navigation around a 6 (yes, six!) string bass guitar by Mick Paul. On vocals, Jinian Wilde, who looks so much like my ex's dad that I do a double take when he walks on stage and wonder if he's come along to do some soldering on a defective piece of kit - but as soon as he opens his mouth to sing, the sheer power of his voice on the extremely challenging material makes me forget all about this. Until now, apparrently. All in all, a very impressive band.

And I know I shouldn't, but I have to single out Craig Blundell on drums as particularly impressive (and not just because there's a good chance he might read this.) Having been utterly blown away by his ability to play electro / drum and bass-ish beats live at last year's Frost* gigs, I cannot believe that he can also play riffs which verge on metal, jazz-prog sections in what he describes as "time signatures within time signatures", and out-Bruford Bruford in the "hitting everything in sight and still keeping perfect time" stakes. I'm often tempted to book him for a drum lesson, except that I feel like it'd be rather like asking Jenson Button to take me out in a Micra with L-plates on.

Blunders in a rare shot where his face is not being sliced
 in two by the emmental cymbal (yes, it's really full of holes.)

So, that's the band, but what use is a band of great musicians without anything good to play? Yes, Dream Theater, I'm looking at you. (I mean 'Dream Theater, I'm looking at you'. I'm not looking at Yes. Apart from perhaps that rubbish 'Tormato' album. That was pants.) Luckily, the David Cross band appear to have rather a lot of good music up their collective sleeves. 

Whilst doing some Googling for this review, I came across this review of David's last album by Robert Fripp (oh, so apparently they are still talking, what are the chances?):

"Good album! It continues a line of the work we did together in 1973 that no-one else has quite followed."

This is exactly what I was about to say, so thanks, Bob, for stealing my thunder. I'm actually struck by almost exactly the same thought during the gig - that this is what King Crimson might sound like now if they'd carried on with the same line-up after the 'Red' album rather than breaking up and getting back together in the 80s with the (admittedly awesome) Talking Heads-ish 'Discipline'. There are plenty of angular, metallic riffs of the kind familiar from 'Red', or 'Larks' Tongues in Aspic', and then there are the slower, more melodic numbers which are a little reminiscent of tracks like 'Fallen Angel'. 

I'm afraid I really can't tell you what they play, except that one of the tracks is, brilliantly, called 'Spiderboy' which makes me immediately think both of Spiderpig, and of this clip from Father Ted. And neither of these are bad things, obviously. 

And many of the songs are introduced as being from the new album, so that immediately goes on the mental wishlist (to be moved to the real wishlist once it actually exists.) 

But, I suspect the highlight for many, judging by the way some people's crazy 7/8 dancing ramps up at these points, are the 3 King Crimson tracks which we get treated to. 'Exiles' from the 'Larks' Tongues' album is a song which David announces that the band have turned into their own over the years, and judging by tonight's performance he's not wrong. An ambient-electronic type opening introduces the song before it gets into more familiar territory, and then an extended instrumental jam outtro also takes it to new places. I later find this performance of it from Italy 4 years ago, which is similar albeit not as good (no Blundell, you see.)

The gig ends in style with a fairly straight rendition of 'Starless' from 'Red', but then who needs to mess with a song this good? Once again, the entire band impresses, and the track ends with an amazing instrumental freakout before they leave the stage to huge applause.

Bizarrely enough, half the audience seem to have forgotten about the concept of encores because they immediately head for the exit after the band leave the stage, but those lucky ones who stick around are treated to a blistering rendition of '21st Century Schizoid Man', which is completely unexpected given that it's a track from before Mr Cross's stint in Crimson. But who cares about that, it's another tour de force from the entire band, and there's even more prog-dancing, furious riffing and Spiderpigging. OK, maybe not the Spiderpigging.

After the gig, there's just time to visit Nellie at the Merch Desk, then a quick chat with Mr Blundell during which Karin apologises for the conduct of her entire country (or something like that) and I tell him I thought his T-shirt was Darth Vader playing a digeridoo. I wish it had been- that would be a great T-shirt.

Disappearing off into the night, we find the gig was so blistering that the door to the bar has steamed up, and someone has decided to graffiti it with semi-slanderous mist-writing about Peel doorman George. 

So Karin decides to finish it off nicely.

It's a thoroughly enjoyable evening and a great reminder of why it's sometimes worth taking a punt on something you don't know that much about. I honestly hope the Peel continues to support live music by putting on the variety of acts that they do, and I hope its clientèle continue to support it in this way. Because if it ever disappears, I know I'll miss it. Especially its cuddly lovely doorman.

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