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Progressive Rock Concert Reviews

The Enid

Live in Bethlehem, PA (NEARFest 2010), June, 2010

Review by Julie Knispel

It’s hard to believe that a non-headliner would end up being the most talked about band at a festival, but the fact of the matter is that quite often bands come out of nowhere for a good number of festival attendees, and it’s usually bands that are on the undercard.  So many people, for example, would be familiar with a former member of Genesis, or one of the three guys in Emerson Lake and Palmer, but how many people comparatively speaking (and at the time of their performance) have heard of Hidria Spacefolk or Sleepytime Gorilla Museum or Guapo?
It seems odd saying that the same thing will be said of The Enid’s performance at NEARfest 2010, but I think it may well be the case.  While a regular at festivals in the UK during the 1970’s and 1980’s, with a history to boot, they are next to unknown in the United States save by a devoted and small coterie of fans who covet their releases and realize that they are a band of special prowess and sound.  They may not be a prog band in the usual sense, but perhaps they’re what prog could have become had it not disappeared up its collective backsides.

The Enid in 2010 is certainly a different creature from the band that took the stage in the UK in the 1970s, or even the band that played Stonehenge in 1984 and instigated an MI5 investigation.  Constant to all three, however, is Robert John Godfrey, founder member, composer and keyboardist, whose Mahler-esque compositions are the heart and soul of the band.  His playing has remained solid, his piano work emotive and fluid, while his synth orchestrations create the closest thing to an actual string section sound as you may ever hear on stage.  For this go-round, he’s joined by fellow original Enid member Dave Storey on drums (and occasional vocals, about which more soon); Max Read on guitars, keyboards and vocals; Jason Ducker on guitars, and Nick Willes on bass and percussion.


Bill Knispel
     
The Enid on stage is a dramatic looking band, if for no other reason than sheer amounts of instruments.  To stage right are Godfrey and Read, keyboards splayed out, PCs helping to thicken an already thick melange of synths and piano and chorused vocals and guitars.  Stage center sit Storey behind his kit and Ducker behind his Strat, waiting to play the lyrical lines that are a hallmark of Enid guitar style.  Finally, to stage left, begind tympani, bass drum and accorted percussion instruments, is Willes, bass strapped across his back, ready to add the flourishes that are Enid trademarks.

The Enid opened up their NEARfest 2010 performance with Journey’s End.

That’s not a typo.

Their first set, this was performance broken into sets with a short intermission, was their new studio album Journey’s End in its entirety.  This was a brash and brave decision, and for so many people in the audience, this would be the first time this material would be heard in any form.  Having no idea what the new band sounded like, I awaited this performance with bated breath, and for the first several minutes, everything was perfect.


Bill Knispel
     
Then disaster struck.

The Enid is a heavily orchestrated sounding band, and they rely on a PC system to trigger additional layers of instrumental sounds in conjunction with what is being played on stage.  Additionally, on tracks like “Terra Firma” and “Shiva,” where upwards of 70 tracks of vocals are present on the album, this system allows the band to more accurately recreate their lush sound on stage.  It would be a disaster if the PC crashed on stage…and that is exactly what happened.  A flurry of activity burst forth on stage as band and crew struggled to get things up and running.  As things progressed, voices in the audience began calling out for a drum solo.  As Storey remained behind the kit, he obliged in a manner of speaking, serenading the crowd with a drum and vocal rendition of Cliff Richards’ “Summer Holiday,” as last heard on the 1979 Hammersmith DVD the band just released.  Calls for audience participation were met with bemused confusion, as few people in the crowd had any familiarity with the song.

Finally, as a spare power supply got things back up and running, the audience was offered a question; should the band continue on from where the crash occurred, or start over?  A loud call from the audience answered that one quickly, and the band began their set over from scratch.

As the Enid worked through the tracks from Journey’s End, I was struck by how well this new material straddled the line between the band’s later vocal oriented music (Something Wicked This Way Comes) and the earlier almost classical releases (In the Region of the Summer Stars).  Instrumental sections had the same massive feel and grandeur, while the vocal tracks were concise and punchy, and above all filled with a message of hope that humanity would find a way out of the mess it’s in.  When the final cadences and flourishes of Journey’s End faded, the piece, and band, was met with a rapturous response as the theatre stood in ovation for what had just been presented.


Bill Knispel
     
Luckily for the audience, The Enid was not done yet.

The second half of their performance was dedicated to the older material that made many people fans.  It came as a shock that they elected to open this second set with “Apocalypse - Judgement Day,” a track from 1976’s In the Region of the Summer Stars that I see as being a perfect closing or encore piece.  Building slowly, with tympani and subtle keyboard playing, the song builds to a huge climax before quietly fading away, creating in music the tumult and chaos of the last days and final judgment.  This was one of three pieces the band played in succession from that debut release, along with the melodic “Avalon - Under The Summer Stars” and “The Loved Ones,” a showcase for Godfrey’s piano chops.  The first two of these tracks were revisited by the band for their 2009 release Arise and Shine, and the renditions here were very close to the performances captured on that release.

The remaining two pieces from the band’s main set would see The Enid revisiting newer territories.  “Sheets From The Blue Yonder” was a melodic showcase for Ducker’s unassuming yet always perfect guitar playing.  Originally released on 1986’s album Salome, this piece is a later day Enid classic, and the band nailed the performance.  This was followed up by the atypical “Dark Hydraulic Forces of the Id,” a track from the band’s “dance” album Tripping the Light Fantastic from 1994.  Ignore the faux disco beats and listen carefully, and all the classic Enid elements are there…subtle orchestration and composition, a structure that builds and fades, ebbing and flowing like an ocean, while the band works together to take the listener on a trip.  “Dark Hydraulic Forces of the Id” is indeed a dark track, cinematic in scope, and closed out things wonderfully.

The audience was unwilling to let the band go, however, and they came back for one final song, taking a trip back to 1977’s Aerie Faerie Nonsense for a rendition of “A Heroes’ Life - Childe Roland,” the dramatic opening track from that album.  A final ovation later, and perhaps this first ever Enid concert in North America would be the harbinger of future concert successes here in the States.

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Bill Knispel
     
This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2010  Volume 4 at lulu.com/strangesound.
You'll find concert pics of this artist in the Music Street Journal members area.
 
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