ENGLAND – The Concerts In Japan

New Music – Green Tree 2022

Revitalized in all its glory, art-rock also-rans’ oriental reports dazzle with previously obscured brilliance.

The Concerts In Japan

Not for nothing “Garden Shed” – this ensemble’s debut album, untimely issued at the peak of punk’s short reign on the Albion shores, when progressive rock demonstrated sheer decline – became a cult classic: beside defining the band’s unique sonic identity – not a mean feat by the time when most of their chosen genre’s protagonists moved on – it remains a shockingly fresh listen more than four decades later. However, sounding as contemporary as if it was recorded today, the platter couldn’t be properly played in concert then; fast-forward to 2006, though, to the reformed collective’s first-ever Far East jaunt, and they were finally able not only to reproduce all the familiar numbers on stage but also to flesh out the old material with new passages and later cuts. Still, what came out as “Live In Japan – Kikimimi” soon after didn’t represent the group’s performance neither in aural terms, nor in terms of actual set list, which is restored now, including previous omissions, to delight the veterans’ faithful followers.

On these two discs, not restricted by the classic album’s running order, Robert Webb, Martin Henderson and their latter-day colleagues unleash a different logic upon the music they deliver – that’s shining in quite organically way here, unlike on the earlier, overdubs-enhanced release – even though they begin the show with the ensemble’s tour-de-force “Midnight Madness” which doesn’t lose an iota of its light exquisiteness, despite electric piano taking to the fore, alongside organ, where Mellotron used to flash, while pride of place would be given to the majestic “Imperial Hotel” which is condensed to half of its original scope. Instrumentally adventurous, the quintet sculpt impressive vocal polyphony on the diaphanous “Paraffinalea” too, before Alec Johnson’s six strings soar for a solo and Steve Laffy’s exotic percussion figures introduce the airy riff to the faux-vaudevillian “Masters Of War” whose jazzy elegance should strike the faint-hearted in the same way as the acoustic shapes of “Lament For Alex” and “Yellow” or the fragrant balladry of “All Alone” will further down the line.

Of course, there are “Three Piece Suite” and “Poisoned Youth” – two magnificent, multipart epics served up entirely in their artsy, alternately playful and solemn, sway and featuring Henderson’s bass acrobatics – to stress the collective’s versatility, yet the never-heard “Open Up” that Webb and Maggie Alexander’s effervescent ivories drive to funky delirium until drums erupt in a showcase, and the Fabs-channeling, uplifting “It Couldn’t Be You” offer a starker dynamic contrast. So when the streamlined “Nanogram” brings the concert to a triumphantly elegant finale, festive images reign in the listener’s mind-eye as a lingering aftertaste. It’s a genuine carnival of color – well worth the wait.


January 16, 2023

Category(s): Reissues
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