ProgBlog

The Musical Box

O2 Shepherd's Bush Empire

19th April 2013

I wasn’t a great fan of tribute acts following a disappointing experience watching Umma Gumma recreate the sounds of the dawn of psychedelia on the 26th May 2004 but I changed my mind after rationalising. I like live music, even of some genres I’m wouldn’t have in my collection. The performances by The Australian Pink Floyd are very enjoyable, with their humour, presentation and musicianship. The Musical Box are the best.

 

I’ve seen them perform The Trick of the Tail tour twice, and having seen the Gabriel-less Genesis on the Wind and Wuthering tour in 1977, I fully appreciate what they’re recreating down to the facial hair, stage clothes and between-song banter. It is a quite remarkable achievement. (The second time I saw the show included an unscheduled break for a technical breakdown, when guitarist François Gagnon couldn’t get his effects to work. It was hard to tell if this was a genuine malfunction or part of the recreation.)

I’d missed out seeing the original Lamb tour. School friend Alan Lee went to see it in Newcastle where his older sister was a student and he returned with a souvenir programme to show off and raved about the experience. I’ve seen bits of it performed live by former members, but the chance to see the entire performance using the original triptych back projections and painstakingly recreated costumes was an opportunity too good to miss.

 

I’m not particularly fond of the Shepherd’s Bush Empire as a venue. The seating is restrictive and uncomfortable and ticket prices are pretty steep. There’s also an unwelcome strange acoustic phenomenon that amplifies the chatter of the audience. This was very noticeable during the pre-show documentary, a 15 minute film about the development of the album and the ensuing tour put together by artistic director Serge Morissette, whose forensic research and knowledge of production details enabled The Musical Box to put together their meticulous recreation. I’d really like to see this film again in the comfort of my own home.

What followed was a brilliant concert. It’s obvious that Morisette had done his homework, because a comparison of footage from the original show and what we were seeing live revealed that the stage set was duplicated to a high degree of accuracy, from the positioning of the risers to the stone tunnel that allowed Denis Gagné to enter as a Slipperman and the word-perfect Gabriel story song introductions, compiled from bootleg recordings of the original shows. The execution of the music was stunning. From the opening toccata-like piano of the title track to the last bars of the more straightforward rock ‘n’ roll of It, this was a remarkably accurate sonic rendition of the album. The instrumentation was spot-on; the effects and nuances were all there, including examples of Enossification.

The only criticism I have of the show is the vocal mix. It’s easy to imagine the difficulties of getting clear vocals from the Slipperman suit, but there were frequent times when only a good knowledge of the lyrics enabled recognition of the words sung. Not only that, but there were also times when Gagné seemed to try too hard to sound like Peter Gabriel, often at the beginning of songs, and he would go off-key for a bar or two. However, it would be most ungenerous of me to suggest that this spoiled my enjoyment.

I found it interesting to see the instrumental tracks in context as interludes allowing Gabriel/Gagné to change outfits. Apparently, The Waiting Room was a Banks/Collins/Hackett/ Rutherford favourite because it allowed them to let loose, as evidenced on the Evil Jam. The performance by Cloutier, Gagnon, Laflamme and Lamothe was pretty impressive, though my favourite instrumental section has to be on Here Comes the Supernatural Anaesthetist, which I’ve always thought was very Yes-like. It’s a pretty gruelling gig for the musicians – 80 minutes of complex music without a break - but the band handled it with consummate professionalism and followed it by two crowd-pleasing encores: The Musical Box, introduced with the familiar story of Henry Hamilton-Smythe (age 8) who was beheaded by Cynthia Jane De Blaise-Williams (9) during a game of croquet and featuring Gagné in an old man mask; and Watcher of the Skies which this time featured Gagné in a bat-wing headdress.

The show was entertaining from start to finish, consummately performed and realised. The minor glitches with the vocal mix and the non-exploding pyrotechnic, thrown following the line from Back in NYC: “You can tell from the night fires where Rael has been, has been” really didn’t detract from the experience. Before discovering The Musical Box, I could never have imagined seeing a Slipperman, warts, inflatable testicles and all, emerging from the rosewater pool of The Lamia. It was totally brilliant.

 

Badge 1 (1974) ProgBlog logo