Monday, 30 May 2016

Magnum - Bristol Review

Magnum are one of those bands that, despite achieving considerable success in the 1980s, were always caught between two camps. Their music was too keyboard-heavy to really extensively appeal to the hard rock and metal crowds, and they had too much a rock crunch to fit in with the American AOR crowd. That being said Magnum did, and still do, continue to do well for themselves. They had two top 10 albums in the 1980s and 1990s; and since reforming in 2001, they have had two albums reach the top 40. They still have a strong cult following, especially here in the UK and on mainland Europe, which is helped by their regular album releases and plentiful touring. Magnum are never a band to rest on their laurels. While their sets always contain plenty of choice old classics, they always include plenty of new material too. The band's current tour is supporting their nineteenth studio album Sacred Blood "Divine" Lies (which I reviewed here) and it has taken in much of Europe and a generous helping of UK shows to round it off. Magnum's recent sound can be characterised as tougher and more guitar-heavy than their more radio-friendly 1980s output, which suits frontman Bob Catley's aging voice which has now acquired some grit. Prior to this show in Bristol, I had seen the band twice live previously - both of which were at festivals. Both their 2010 High Voltage set, and their 2013 Cambridge Rock Festival set were excellent, but I have wanted to see them headline in their own right for some time now. They usually tour the UK every couple of years but, for various reason, I have just not been able to make any plans work. Therefore, this night at Bristol's O2 Academy was long overdue, and I was looking forward to finally seeing a full length Magnum set.

Before Magnum hit the stage however, the growing crowd was treated to 45 minutes or so from British melodic rockers Vega who impressed the crowd with a confident set packed full of classy tunes. While I own some of the band's albums, I had never really given them a proper listen, and was looking forward to using this rare opportunity to see the band live to do so. I was impressed with the band's set, which was culled mostly from their latest album Who We Are. Explode ensured their set started with a bang, and Nick Workman proved himself to be an excellent frontman, with a strong voice for this sort of melodic rock. The highlight of the set was the extremely catchy Gonna Need Some Love Tonight which is from the band's previous album, and gave Marcus Thurston (guitar/vocals) plenty of opportunity to show off his lightning-fast guitar skills. The band's line-up seemed a bit different to usual. It did not look like James Martin behind the keyboards (not sure who the fill in is, so apologies for not name-checking him) and there was a rhythm guitarist added to the live line-up, letting Tom Martin handle the bass. This was one of the better support slots I have seen (although, in fairness, I have seen lots of good ones recently - which makes a change!), and the ending of Saving Grace brought their set to a melodic end. The setlist was:

Kiss of Life
Gonna Need Some Love Tonight
Every Little Monster
Stereo Messiah
All or Nothing
We Got it All
White Flag
Wherever We Are
Saving Grace

There is certainly plenty of love left in the world for Magnum, with the band's newer albums still receiving excellent reviews and the amount of people that still go out and see the band live.  By the time they hit the stage, the place was pretty full, and the large crowd was in fine voice throughout the night. Usually, the band pack the front half of the show with new material, and save the classics for later, but this show saw the band mix things up somewhat, with newer numbers and classics more evenly distributed throughout. Two bona fide classics, Soldier of the Line and a personal favourite of mine On a Storyteller's Night, opened the evening with a bang. Catley was in fine voice throughout, and these early songs gave Mark Stanway (keyboards) chance to flex his muscles with plenty of majestic keyboard flourishes. Lots of new material followed, and half of the band's new album was featured throughout the evening. The title track was one of the highlights (although there was a strange moment where Catley stopped singing and everyone in the band looked around at each other in confusion - not sure what happened there!), as was the heavier Dance of the Black Tattoo from 2011's On the 13th Day. The beautiful ballad You Dreams Won't Die, also from the new album, is destined to become a future live classic. Stanway's piano-work is fantastic, and Catley sung it beautifully. Next was the epic How Far Jerusalem, which was extended to feature a lengthy guitar solo from Tony Clarkin (guitar/vocals). While he will never be included in anyone's best guitarists list, he writes all of the band's songs so he deserves his moment in the spotlight occasionally! Les Morts Dansant is always a highlight of a Magnum show. The poignant ballad always evokes a great reaction from the audience, and no matter how many times I see the band live I do not think I will ever tire of hearing it. The main set came to end with two great songs. Princess in Rags (The Cult), again from the band's latest album, is probably the closest the reformed band have come to sounding to their 1980s heyday; and it went down well live. This, followed up by Vigilante, was a high-energy end to the set, and saw lots of the crowd jumping up and down and singing along. A two-song encore followed however. It started with the whole band sitting down as Clarkin led everyone through a rousing version of the slightly folky The Spirit, before everyone got up and rocked the final chorus with the whole crowd joining in. The evening came to and end in familiar style with the ever-present Kingdom of Madness. It is a great live song, and always evokes a strong reaction from the crowd who helped Catley and Al Barrow (bass guitar/vocals) sing the melodic and anthemic chorus. The setlist was:

Soldier of the Line
On a Storyteller's Night
Sacred Blood "Divine" Lies
Freedom Day
Dance of the Black Tattoo
Crazy Old Mothers
Blood Red Laughter
Your Dreams Won't Die
How Far Jerusalem
Unwritten Sacrifice
Twelve Men Wise and Just
Les Morts Dansant
All England's Eyes
Princess in Rags (The Cult)
The Spirit
Kingdom of Madness

My trip to see a Magnum headline show was long-overdue, but it was worth it. The veteran band still put on a fantastic show, and with a large portion of their set dedicated to their post-reunion albums, it shows they are always looking forward (with half an eye kept on the past of course!). Vega were hanging around by their merch desk after the show, so I managed to get my copy of Who We Are signed by them all, which was a good bonus.

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