Sunday, 7 May 2017

Karnataka - London Review

Since releasing their fifth studio album Secrets of Angels in 2015, Karnataka have had a bit of a resurgence. A couple of UK tours in 2012 introduced Hayley Griffiths as the band's new frontwoman, but then the band battened down the hatches to write and record the album. Secrets of Angels received high praise on it's release and contains many of the band's best songs, so it is unsurprising that the band have been touring it ever since. The last time I saw the band was in 2015 on the initial Secrets of Angels tour at the Islington Assembly Hall. That evening was a fantastic display of live melodic progressive rock music and a large, appreciative crowd was gathered on the day. Despite another fairly lengthy tour in 2016, there were no dates that I was able to make. When I saw the announcement of the 2017 End to End tour towards the end of last year I knew I had to make an extra effort this time around as the band would be playing both Secrets of Angels and 2010's The Gathering Light at each of the shows. The final night of the End to End tour at London's O2 Academy, Islington seemed the most appropriate option so settled on a hotel in Finsbury Park for the trip. Islington's O2 Acedemy is a fairly regular haunt of mine and I have been to quite a few gigs there over the years. While there are better venues in London, there are also certainly plenty of worse ones too and shows there are always an enjoyable experience. With doors opening at 7pm, and Karnataka hitting the stage at 7:30pm, this was an evening of no fuss. The planned support act had to pull out at the last minute, but with the band playing two albums in full the punters more than got their money's worth. Sadly, both Panic Room and Ghost Community were also playing concerts in London on the same night which definitely affected the turn out. This seems rather poor planning on the bands' fronts and I would not be surprised if the turn out at all three of these shows were somewhat lower than expected. That being said, Karnataka still managed to attract a respectable crowd on a Saturday night given the competition and there is no doubt that those who chose Karnataka's gig definitely were in for a treat.

The show was split into two sets, with an album either side of a short interval. First up was the full performance of The Gathering Light. As the instrumental intro The Calling played over the venue's PA, Enrico Pinna (guitar/vocals) took to the stage alone to play along with the end of the piece, before the rest of the band joined him for the following lengthy instrumental State of Grace. The piece is still very guitar driven, but Çağrı Tozluoğlu (keyboards) added plenty of symphonic melodies to balance things out. Griffiths made her first appearance on Your World, a song she has really made her own since joining the band, and from then on the first set really rocked. While The Gathering Light material was written for a singer with a different type of voice to what Griffiths possesses, she still sings the songs very well and does so with plenty of confidence as she struts around the stage interacting with those in the front row and the other band members. The highlights of the first set were a monstrous version of The Serpent and the Sea and the gorgeous ballad Forsaken. The latter is one of my favourite Karnataka songs, and I love the contrast of the book-ending vocal sections with the lengthy guitar solo in the middle which sees the band firing on all cylinders. Pinna easily stole the show during the first set as he spent so much of it soloing. His fluid, emotional guitar playing was the defining feature of the album and seeing him re-create those solos live is always special. The album's title track is always a stunning live number and the version played in London was no different. Griffiths always owns this one vocally, and the whole band really really seem to up the ante as the lengthy songs draws to a close. Plenty in the crowd were singing the chorus at the tops of their voices too, and the atmosphere buildings constantly.

If Pinna was the star of the first set, then Griffiths was the star of the second. The Secrets of Angels songs are ones that she co-wrote, so naturally she is more at home with them and her confidence soars as a result. The song in the second half are more concise and rocking (the twenty minute closing number aside) and really showcase the band's rhythm section. Drummer Jimmy Pallagrosi and founding member Ian Jones (bass guitar) really lock in perfectly during the second set and their high-energy playing really drives the material. The symphonic Road to Cairo gets the second half going, but it is during the emotionally-charged Because of You that things really reach the top gear. The song is a real showcase for Griffiths and she knows it, nailing the vocals and owning the stage as she does so. The melodic and heavier Poison Ivy and Forbidden Dreams give the band a real chance to rock out and the audience show their appreciation with large cheers between songs. Karnataka have never rocked hard than they have since the release of Secrets of Angels and songs like this are a real welcome addition to the setlists and help to create a chance of pace when necessary. Borderline helps to lighten the mood with a killer chorus, before personal favourite Fairytale Lies really wows the crowd. This is the song that is, in my opinion, the closest to the original Karnataka line-up's sound and has been a real favourite of mine since the album was released. The delicate piano ballad Feels Like Home provides a little moment of calm in the set before the grand finale of Secrets of Angels itself. It is a real tour de force of progressive rock songwriting, with acoustic sections, full-blown symphonic rock instrumental passages, and a diverse and captivating vocal performance from Griffiths. The song is always a winner live and is has probably become the band's signature piece over the past couple of years. The venue erupted into rapturous applause when it was finished and the band took their bows with huge smiles. The setlist was:

The Calling
State of Grace
Your World
Moment in Time
The Serpent and the Sea
Tide to Fall
The Gathering Light
Road to Cairo
Because of You
Poison Ivy
Forbidden Dreams
Fairytale Lies
Feels Like Home
Secrets of Angels

More and more bands are now embracing these 'albums in full'-type sets, and it works well. Both of the albums Karnataka chose to showcase in full on this tour work well when played in sequence and playing only the newer materials shows that the band are forward-thinking and trying not to rest of past glories. It must nearly be time for a new Karnataka album however, so I wonder if that is what the band will turn their attentions to now the tour is over?

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