Haken, Special Providence & Arkentype, The Fleece Bristol
The last few gigs I've been too have been a bit of a mix style wise, from Magnum's melodic pomp, too a stripped back Virginmarys set, through hard rock of Buffalo Summer and Blind Guardian's power metal majesty, what's been missing is prog. Thankfully Haken have got that covered with their triumphant return to Bristol's The Fleece for the first show of their Affinity tour in support of their fourth full length album.
Heading to the gig post work, I dived in The Seven Stars next door for swift pint of Coffee and Vanilla Porter (which was unique but very nice indeed), however due to the allure of beer I unfortunately missed openers Arkentype but from what I heard through the walls, they seemed to be djent based band with palm muted heavy guitars and soaring vocals. I came into the venue just as they had finished their set to an applause. Due to this it would be unfair to score them so I won't, I'd say just listen to them and make up your own mind.
Next up we had Special Providence from Budapest, they are a totally instrumental progressive jazz band, that played four or five jazz fusion numbers that while technically impressive, were just a little dull for my taste. This maybe due to the lack of vocals but there is only so many times you can hear a fleet fingered 5-string bass and drum combo matched with jazzy keys and complex 7-string guitar playing before it all gets a bit dull. That's not to say it was bad or indeed repetitive the songs were all different but they did sort of blend into one another meaning it was a bit like one long instrumental and because Haken have so many facets to their music the band preceding them just didn't get the place as excited as they should have as the music was little too laid back for many and a bit too virtuoso for the others, still they were received by those that liked their instrumental jazz fusion style however for me there just something lacking. 6/10
Thankfully Haken's debut show of their AffiniTour v1.0 (yes folks more retro computer referencing) tour in support of their most recent album Affinity was anything but dull as affinity.exe played over the PA as an intro tape, the six piece band took to the stage and kicked off the set with rocky album opener Initiate which had the band and the crowd rocking from the word go, although the band couldn't do much rocking due to the cramped conditions on stage relegating bassist Connor Green to the back of the stage and almost invisible due to the stage lighting. Much of the stage was taken up by Diego Tejeida's massive keyboard set up, but it's him that is the key to much of Haken's sound, as shown by the synth heavy 1985 which is the most Yes song not written by Yes as it features electronic drums and even an amazing keytar solo by Diego.
Breaking these two debuting songs was a classic Haken number Eternal Rain which will be in the set eternally as it is a song that sums up much of the band's past and present very well. In the back corner of the stage was Raymond Hearne who controlled the pace with his immense percussion skills knowing when to ease off and when to apply gas to the heavier tracks, bolstered by the intricate bass playing of Green who despite not being seen could be heard anchoring the more complicated harsh and melodic tones of Richard Henshall and Charles Griffiths guitars that fire off riffs aplenty, along with the occasional lighter more deft touch and a heaving tonne of intense soloing.
The band were clearly reveling in playing the new stuff live but happily for old school Haken fans like myself they didn't forget about their early albums with debut Aquarius represented by Eternal Rain and Visions by Deathless. The rest of the set saw them drawing mainly from Affinity and The Mountain, the first song from which was the eleven minute plus, emotional epic of Falling Back To Earth which served as the first showcase for Ross Jennings incredible vocals that are all at once powerful yet fragile, he always reminds me of Yes' Jon Anderson as he has a similar style and pitch, although Jennings has a wider range.
The band's performance was enhanced greatly by the amazing light show distracted you from the semi-static performance, I say semi static as Jennings has enough energy for two full bands, considering the nature of the music he was adamant about people dancing. How you can dance to The Mountain's Cockroach King is beyond me but there was some Dad style shuffling of feet to the glorious Earthrise. Cockroach King is a real tribute to the bands talent as any band can play a long multi layered song but this song is so complicated vocally and also musically that it could go horribly wrong but manages to be one of the band's most accessible songs.
Now the previous sentence is not to say Haken haven't got longer songs, oh no sir the debuting The Architect clocks in at 15 minutes plus but takes you along for the ride, meaning you are fully invested in the song from start to finish. In a similar vein after the set closer of The Endless Knot it was time for the normal encore, with the rapturous cheers subsiding, the opening chords said it all, another cheer as the 19 minute epic Crystallized was the solitary encore piece but what an encore it was once again moving between sounds and styles balancing light and shade and generally just bewitching those that had stayed late (the show was running later that it should have been). Haken proved on their last tour that they are capable of headlining their own shows, on this one they showed that they are not only capable they are made for being top of the bill! 9/10