Lazuli: The Fleece, Bristol
Last year the overwhelming highlight of an otherwise bloated performance from Fish at the O2 Academy was the support band, French outfit Lazuli, whose unique progressive rock fused with Eastern influences was quite fantastic. Their modest reaction to a massive ovation was quite humbling.
Roll forward almost a year and Lazuli (10) are back in Bristol, at one of our favourite venues, The Fleece. This was a gig we’d been looking forward to for some time and it proved to be ever so worthwhile. A sparse crowd of around 70 people allowed for plenty of space on the floor but that didn’t faze the Frenchmen who took the stage just before 8.30pm. Over the next two hours the band treated the audience to a masterful demonstration in pace, power and passion. Lazuli’s strengths are numerous, but a huge factor in their appeal is the eclectic sound. At times heavy and hard, often delicate and precise and always superbly performed, the band have few peers and deserved a much larger audience.
Opening with the beautiful Le Temps Est La Rage from their recent Nos Ames Saoules, Lazuli played a magnificently paced set which combined tracks from their latest album with older material, including several from 2014’s brilliant Tant Que L’herbe Est Grasse. With the diminutive Dominique Leonetti the focal point as vocalist and guitarist, the band demonstrated their skills throughout. Guitarist Gederic Byar was exceptional, his guitar work intricate. To Dominique’s right his brother Claude whose self-designed Léòde is still an instrument of mystery but boy can he play it. Behind the front three, drummer Vincent Barnavol whose percussion was a thing of beauty whilst keyboard and French horn player Romain Thorel added layers onto an already stunning sound.
The band appeared to be delighted to be playing live, with broad smiles and much laughter. Dominique apologised for his faltering English, something that there was no need to do at any stage. He read out some introductory pieces from a sheet of A4, taking the opportunity to demonstrate a wicked sense of humour. What also impressed was the crowd response which was first class. There may have been few of us there but the thunderous applause after each song demonstrated that there is an appetite for much more. Lazuli closed their set with two pieces of magic. An enthralling drum versus keyboard duel between Vincent and Romain before the band joined forces for their magical marimba finale, complete with a snippet of Heroes in the middle..
As the applause rang out around The Fleece I reflected on the similarities and differences between Lazuli and the incredible performance I’d witnessed by Opeth at Wembley the week before. Two bands who follow their own musical path, regardless of pressure. Both humble and modest in approach and performance, both musically magical and enchanting despite at times being poles apart in content. Sometimes live music lifts you to places where you cannot otherwise reach. This was another of those evenings.