Splendid Isolation

On Saturday, we got to go to our first gig of the year – the mighty Gazpacho at The Assembly Rooms, Leamington Spa.

I’d never been to The Assembly before, and I have to say I was very impressed indeed with the place: nice high stage, very nice architecturally, with a custom-made area for merch, and a bar outside the venue area, so there was no bar noise during the gig. In fact the only criticism I can think of would be that their bar is utterly useless to anyone with more than a single tastebud – no Real Ales, merely a string of fizzy Euro-brews and vodka based pseudo alco-pops that the venue clearly seem to believe is all anyone of gig-going age is going to want to drink. Wrong, guys: try getting in some decent beer. You’ll be amazed how much more you will sell, and how much less people will complain about getting charged over £3 for a 300ml bottle of tepid piss. Gazpacho were even moved to marvel from the stage during the gig that they came over to Britain, a country possessed of one of the more notable histories of brewing in the world, and the best thing on offer from the venue was… a bottle of Becks. Pitiful.

Still, that aside, I only have good things to say about the venue, and even better things to say about the show. Oh my Goat it was good; in fact it was far better than merely “good” and well into the realms of being completely awesome – the sort of show that makes your socks autonomously shoot off your feet like Exocet missiles, taking your outer footwear with them. It’d been around 6 years since I last heard Gazpacho live in person, and even having seen live footage of them in the interim, I was astonished at what a capable, confident band they’ve become. It was quite a long show – nearly 2 and a half hours, no problems with value for money here! – and I was positively transfixed for the entire duration. You just couldn’t look away.

I’ve never been disappointed with a Gazpacho album, but I have to admit that I hadn’t really listened to their latest, Missa Atropos, all that many times – I’d sat down with it properly four or five times, and played it a few more times without paying close attention. It sounded good, but I simply hadn’t given it enough time and attention for it to really grab me. Well, watching the gig was all the encouragement I needed: I think it’s pretty much all I’ve played since, and every time I play it, it seems twice as good as it was the time before. When I wrote down my end-of-year list of my favourite 10 releases of the year, it languished around seventh or eighth position. One stellar gig and a couple of days later, it’s knocking on the door to the podium.

Gazpacho’s music tends towards the ambient rock of Sigur Ros, albeit with a bit more rock bluster. They’ve written quite a few long pieces, and their last three albums have all been album-length concept pieces, so I guess most people would lump them into the Progressive Rock directory, but they’re so dissimilar to bands like Pendragon (shudder) and Genesis that they may as well come from a different planet. A six piece (vocals, guitar, violin/mandolin/guitar, keyboards, bass & drums), they make a sound that makes the term ‘widescreen’ seem utterly inadequate, and whilst they can certainly rock out when they want to, what they do tends to be a lot more atmospheric than that. They played virtually of their previous album, Tick Tock, at the show, which is a great example: it concerns a failed attempt to fly from Paris to Saigon, which comes a cropper over the Sahara desert, and the two men on board are forced to walk through the desert with virtually no supplies until they can find rescue. The consummate skill with which the band conjure the oppressive atmosphere of that scenario is uncanny. By the time they’re done with their tale, you feel like you’ve made the trek yourself – add in the wonderfully passionate vocals of frontman Jan Henrik Ohme and it’s emotionally exhausting, yet exhilarating at the same time.

The new material from Missa Atropos is cut from a similar cloth. The album concerns our need to withdraw from a world that’s gone social network-crazy, to spend time by ourselves, to understand ourselves and find the peace which seems every more elusive. The centre of the story is the tale of a man who leaves his friends and family behind, retreating to a remote lighthouse where he plans to write a mass for the Greek goddess figure Atropos, to whom was attributed the designs of fate and everyone’s ultimate demise. His attempts to write the mass are documented, as well as his gradual disconnection from the world and a growing obsession with the project. I suppose it’s a bit akin to The Shining in that it documents the strange effects that solitude can have on the mind, although in this case it’s far easier to identify and sympathise with the central character. Scattered through the album are astute observations about the perils of too closely connecting with the world and the value of being able to disconnect. In short, it’s deep, highly atmospheric, very finely wrought stuff. The sort of thing you should really check out if you haven’t already, in other words. Get yourself along to the launch page for the album here and check it out.

Anyway, the show was completely amazing. A tremendous performance from the guys (and I felt bad, as I often do for acts from outside the UK, that they didn’t pull in a larger crowd… but we were loud and had a blast, and they could clearly tell, so hopefully they’ll start to get more attention from hereon in), great presentation (nice lighting rig, rear projection and all), and a superb atmosphere (the audience were great: making twice the noise you might expect when it counted, but being really respectful and attentive during the quiet sections) all conspired to make this show one of the best I’ve seen for a very long time. If you ever get the chance to see Gazpacho in action, for gawd’s sake don’t pass it up – and if you’re unaware of the beauty and power of Gazpacho, please go and check them out. Now, before it’s too late!

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