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(260 min 2DVD / GEP Records)
TRACK LIST: Disc 1: 1. Sacred in Sound 2. It All Stops Here 3. Leap of Faith 4. Born Brilliant 5. The Seventh House 6. Drum Solo 7. No Love Lost 8. Widow's Peak 9. The Narrow Margin 10. Guiding Light 11. Harvest of Souls 12. Awake & Nervous 13. The Last Human Gateway 14. The Wake Disc 2: 1. Sacred Sound 2. It All Stops Here 3. Born Brilliant 4. The Seventh House 5. Drum Solo 6. No Love Lost 7. Leap of Faith 8. The Wake 9. Harvest of Souls 10. Awake & Nervous Extras: 1. Stage & Screen 2. Andy's First Gig 3. NEARFest soundcheck 4. Photo Gallery LINEUP: Martin Orford - keyboards; backing vocals Michael Holmes - guitars; keyboards Peter Nichols - lead vocals John Jowitt - bass; b/vox Andy Edwards - drums
Prolusion. One of the most long-standing and, at the same time, creatively consistent English progressive rock acts IQ present their regular release, "Stage". Subtitled as "Live in America and Germany 2005", this is a double DVD production, but is offered for the price of a single DVD. At first I thought that was because both the concerts available are compiled of nearly the same songs (see track listings above), thus almost repeating each other. But now, that I'm acquainted with the material, I clearly realize each performance is in many ways different from the other and that it was sagacious of the band to issue them both within the same package.
Analysis. Disc One documents IQ's headline set at NEARFest-2005, which took place in California's town of Bethlehem on July 9, 2005. I have no idea what kind of trouble happened to the band that day, but I am sure something or, more probably, someone spoiled their mood shortly before their entrance. It was for the first time, while watching this first DVD, that I saw IQ not enjoying their playing on stage, but unusually constrained instead, without even a smile on their faces, which doesn't blend at all with their habitual scenic appearance (in respect of which, here is a quite picturesque review). Of course, professionals remain professionals in every situation, so the group's obviously lowered mental state does not in the least affect their performance as such. Playing just perfectly, firmly in their signature style, the musicians are focused and powerful throughout the concert. Furthermore, many of the fourteen songs played, while retaining all their innate features, sound more than faithful to their studio counterparts. I don't think the track-by-track investigation I usually deploy in my reviews is necessary in this particular case. This time around the band's set consists exclusively of major, widely known classics, which also include the mid sections of The Last Human Gateway and The Wake, played as second and third encores respectively. Indeed, already the fact itself that IQ were called back to the stage three times is more than merely eloquent regarding the quality of their performance at NEARFest. All in all, the first DVD is a top-notch, in all senses outstanding audio-visual journey, which moreover depicts a true achievement, if not a feat of near-impossibility on the part of the band in excellently reproducing their complex sound while being not quite themselves, under obviously unfavorable circumstances. Bravo! Figuratively speaking, Disc Two is prime IQ filmed at the Burg Herzberg Festival in Germany on July 16, 2005, just seven days after their performance at NEARfest-2005. Unlike that of the latter, the sound is less polished, and the camera angles are somewhat less varied, but then the group are right in their element here, emanating a truly friendly aura, having fun, lavishly sharing their joy of playing music, as well as their sincere, natural, spontaneously appearing jokes, with anybody who is fortunate enough to watch them, via this DVD in particular. IQ are one of a very few contemporary bands who are able to effortlessly, without so to say any image-making intention, infuse their onstage performance with a healthy dose of humor, therefore making it a really unique, very memorable event. Apart from being superb musicians and songwriters, the group's obvious love for playing on stage shines through. As ever, Peter shows himself to be an extraordinary singer and - along with Mike - a strong focal point for the band. Mike is a sort of progressive rock guitar hero, as he always seems to have something interesting up his sleeve to add to the arrangements on the one hand, plus nearly endlessly playing amusing-bordering-on-hilarious pranks on the other. It is also amazing to watch Martin manipulate two or even three of his several keyboards and provide backing vocals simultaneously, with cool gestures and a permanently pleased smile upon his face.
Conclusion. One of the beauties of viewing a concert in DVD format could be compared to watching a sporting event with all the close-up cameras and various angles that would be missed when sitting in a hall, particularly if way back in a crowd. To cut a long story short, it is a real joy to see IQ playing live. "Stage" is an excellent, must-have release, especially for fans of the band, most of whom will definitely find that a certain singularity of, well, the first DVD just adds some piquancy to the entire production. Don't forget that this double DVD release is on sale for the price of one.
VM: April 21, 2007
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