Opening with Cut and Run the band appeared confident and inspired, even if vocalist Euan Lowson struggled to work his way through the crowd and onto the stage, having chosen to make his entry from the back of the hall and sing his lines via remote headset. Ionically, the crowd didnít realise who he was until they started wondering where the vocals were coming from!
Cut and Run proved a worthy opener with its edgy guitar riff matching the paranoiac enemy-of-the-state lyrics, and the closing melody with the keyboard still rates, for me at least, as one of Pallasí finest moments.
Barely catching breath, the band then took the audience back to the 1940s for the wartime pastiche Paris Is Burning, a quirky little number that wouldnít have appeared out of place in cafes during the blitz. Not the bandís strongest number, but an interesting example of their experimental approach to songwriting.
Next song up was another newie, Arc of Infinity, a lengthy piece which tended to ramble on a bit, but again some nice harmonies between synth and guitar during the instrumental mid-section. By the time the song ended up on The Sentinel LP the instrumental excesses had been pruned down, and it became one of my favourite pieces of the album.
If thereís one song that defined this line-up of Pallas then itís got to be Crown of Thorns. Majestic, passionate, moving, with the magical Pallas cocktail of bass pedals and mellotron, and bassist Graeme Murrayís powerful backing vocals. It was played to perfection that night, and although I heard at many subsequent gigs it never quite hit the mark the way it did that night.
But if Crown was breathtaking, I wasnít prepared for the Atlantis Suite, an epic mix of old and new material into a heady cocktail of sci-fi drama and rock theatre, telling the story of the ancient cityís destruction through war and subsequent resurrection to save 20th century mankind from repeating the same folly. The strident chords of Rise and Fall opened proceedings, and although it was yet another lengthy composition it quickly caught the imagination as the battle of keyboards and guitar unfolded the drama of the might citizens of Atlantis casting their technological achievements to the wind in a devastating war borne of greed and ambition.
March on Atlantis upped the tension with itís pounding bass and mellotron stabs, as the war approached the apocalypse that would send the city crashing into the sea. As the closing synth motif faded and the audience were left to ponder the effects of the war, they were suddenly jolted by the opening keyboard sequence for Atlantis, with the Sentinel once more rising from the depths in response to the nations of the 20th century moving to the brink of nuclear holocaust.
Some readers may find the whole concept corny, but live, it really worked, with Euan looking down on the audience in a striking Sentinel costume as the dry ice swirled all around. Atlantis brought things to a stirring climax with its refrain of all the world joining hands as one, courtesy of some enthusiastic singing from the audience. The various songs in the suite would eventually resurface on The Sentinel album and various single B-sides, but inevitably they lacked the drama of the live versions, and itís only with their recent rearrangement for compact disc that they have come close to catching this mood.
Not content with socking it to the crowd with this triple whammy, the band then went on to perform The Ripper. A genuinely unsettling song that allowed Niall Matthewson to coax all sorts of creepy sounds from his fretboard, while Euan stalked the stage in dirty mac costume, alternately cackling madly or giving bloodcurdling screams. The whole thing was pretty intense, with its manic melodies and jagged rhythms, that it was almost a relief when it was over.
After such a moody piece, the set needed something more Ďupí, and what better than the bandís best attempt at a pop song, Arrive Alive. With its catchy chorus and driving beat it was the perfect way to bring the night to a close, and one last chance for the audience to sing along.
Suddenly it was all over, but what a great gig. The new material had been well-received, giving the band added confidence before going into the studio, and giving the fans a taste of things to come. It was also the last chance to hear old favourites as the band would have anew set when they returned on the Brave New World tour. But thatís another storyÖÖ..
Review care of John Stout ("I just used the Sentinel CD as a source for the musical descriptions - the rest came flooding back.")