@ The Dome, London
2nd November 2015
Review and Photography by Jo Moolenschot
Train delays has me frantically running through the foggy streets of London towards Tufnell Park on a chilly Monday night, camera bag in tow, hoping I’ll make it to the gig in time to catch the first support of the evening.
The last time I watched Caspian play live they were unfortunately playing at Cargo, a plastic and pretentious nightclub that happens to have a small adjacent stage room which is occasionally used for bands and gigs. In between Caspian’s songs that night the dull thumping of acidic house music would permeate through the curtains of the stage room from next door. It did not spoil their performance at all however, as I think few things could with Caspian. But I felt they were deserving of a far better venue more suited to their personality, sound, and not to mention free from the pretentious atmosphere that is so out of alignment with Caspian’s authenticity. That is why I’m relieved that tonight I’m rushing towards The Dome, a decent sized venue in a less trendy part of town with a bigger stage, great sound, a good reputation and no adjacent night club busting out obnoxious, synthetic, brain-numbing “music”.
Thankfully I make it to the venue just in time to catch the first support act which in many ways was quite a surprise. Arms and Sleepers is the project of two men, Max Lewis and Mirza Ramic, but interestingly only the latter performs live. Furthermore, despite being involved in post rock acts in the past they now produce ambient but upbeat trip hop music. While admittedly this may not appeal much to the readers of this site I personally found it interesting and refreshing. On arriving I found Ramic performing an energetic DJ set on the main floor in front of the stage circled by gig-goers.
It was intimate, chilled but upbeat and enjoyably interactive. It’s an interesting choice by Caspian as support but then Ramic is also from their home state Massachusetts and they are well-known for having broad taste in music and influences. Ramic ends his set with a big thank you and reminding everyone how appreciated and important it is for music lovers to attend gigs and support artists of all kinds, especially with music venues shutting down in large numbers in Boston and around the world. The audience cheered in agreement and it’s great to see how well they’ve responded to his personality and set. The open-minded metal and rock lovers amongst us would (and did ) really enjoy Arms and Sleepers and more can be found at armsandsleepers.com/ .
Shortly after this, the intriguing Jo Quail appears on stage with a fascinating-looking electric cello. It’s yet another interesting choice by Caspian for their main support and I can’t wait to see what she does. Jo begins her set of 5 songs and instantly I’m amazed at the beautiful deep tone she produces as well as her creative use of pedals and loops to create a surprisingly layered sound. She warns us before her second song Salamander that she is “moving into unchartered territory” as it is brand new, never played live before, and the ending is yet to be decided! But she will play it for us anyway even though she has no idea how she will end it.
She of course finishes it beautifully to cheers from the audience before moving on to South West Night, a song she says is a hymn to the Australian night sky. It’s a slower, more moody, melancholy number underpinned with rumbling sounds in the background reminiscent of distant thunder, a sound I’m not sure how she’s created as it’s clear there is no backing track involved. It actually makes the listener think of wide open natural spaces and I find myself contemplating how brilliantly Jo’s music would serve as a film score.
The room is completely still and focused on Jo. The next few songs she picks up the pace and intensity somewhat by playing with different sounds, rhythms and pitches thereby adding more drama. It’s a really atmospheric and enjoyable set with each song being a complete soundscape within itself and having a notably different feeling, pace and overall sound. Once again, Jo Quail produced something a little different and refreshing for an audience that most likely does not get to see acts like hers very often. I thoroughly enjoyed her performance and found her humble and warm personality on stage really appealing. Check out www.joquail.co.uk for more and do make an effort to see Jo next time she performs in a town near you for something unique and different.
One of the reasons why fans of Caspian love them so much is because they seem to have an incredible ability to express an emotion and concept through their music that words alone simply cannot (and, indeed, they manage it largely without words at all). This is strongly apparent in their live performance.
By the time they come on stage the air is buzzing with anticipation and they launch straight in to Darkfield, a wonderfully bass-heavy and changeable track from their new album Dust and Disquiet. With all members silhouetted against dramatic stage lighting they move seamlessly into another new song Echo and Abyss and one can already feel the atmosphere begin to really build in the room. Caspian are exceptionally good at taking an audience / listener on an epic musical journey with both their albums and performances. Each song is a carefully-written chapter that is strung together to create an intense and uplifting greater story.
For Rioseco they invite their friend Jo Quail to return to the stage to perform with them which feels unsurprisingly appropriate. They work old and new songs into the set with ease and after every song the audience responds more loudly and appreciatively. In addition, with every song the band become increasingly more physically active on stage adding to the feeling of increased momentum and power as the set goes on. Every single member is completely immersed in the moment. At a gig like this it’s all about finding a spot to just stand, watch and take it all in; go with the flow and let the band carry you away, which the audience is only too happy to do.
With the soaring notes of ASA, and the absolutely stunning Halls of Summer (which is an incredible treat witnessed live) we reach mid-set and the tone of the evening has well and truly been laid down. Every track feels flawless, the sound brilliantly balanced, the band playing together so tightly and effortlessly as well as with increased passion with every note. By the time the wonderfully mercurial and pleasantly heavy Arcs of Command finishes one wonders if they will leave the venue with breath still in their lungs.
Caspian have worked hard over the last few years: through bereavement, exhausting touring schedules as well as intense writing periods to challenge themselves and bring us this incredible material which is layered with new textures and yet is still undeniably their own sound. And tonight, all this really shows.
After a brief breather off stage they return and surprise us by playing Loft, a song that, in their ten years of existence, they have never played live before. In between their last songs of the night we hear the voice of Charles Bukowski come over the PA reading a quote I recognise from his well-known novel “Factotum” which begins with “If you’re going to try, go all the way…..” (*see full quote below), a nice touch by the band and comfortably poignant.
The way Caspian end their live performances is difficult to put in to words for fear of not doing it justice as it is one of the highlights of the whole experience. Finishing track Sycamore is a simply astonishing song off their album Tertia which begins with a quiet watery sounding melody, then launches into soaring tremolo guitar before travelling even further to an intense drumming crescendo .
The song, and gig, ends with each member one by one gently laying down their instruments, picking up a set of drumsticks and joining in on the drumming for the last few bars of the song. The melody fades out, the drumming builds and builds and then abruptly ends and the stage cuts to black. There is two seconds of utterly stunned silence before the room is filled with a deafening roar. (I think the two second pause of silence was a moment for the audience to just about reclaim their breath before responding to the finishing moment of what was an altogether mind-blowing gig).
Once again, the last time I saw Caspian live having felt so blown away as a long time follower, I remember remarking on social media the next day that “I think at one point my feet lifted off the floor” (which the band saw and kindly liked). Well, at The Dome, London, on Monday 2nd November, I felt that again.
* “If you’re going to try, go all the way. Otherwise, don’t even start. This could mean losing girlfriends, wives, relatives and maybe even your mind. It could mean not eating for three or four days. It could mean freezing on a park bench. It could mean jail. It could mean derision. It could mean mockery–isolation. Isolation is the gift. All the others are a test of your endurance, of how much you really want to do it. And, you’ll do it, despite rejection and the worst odds. And it will be better than anything else you can imagine. If you’re going to try, go all the way. There is no other feeling like that. You will be alone with the gods, and the nights will flame with fire. You will ride life straight to perfect laughter. It’s the only good fight there is.”
― Charles Bukowski, Factotum ”
Caspian’s new album Dust and Disquiet is out now and available on itunes, Amazon, and all major music outlets.
2) Echo and Abyss
3) Of Foam and Wave
4) Rioseco (with Jo Quail)
5) The Dove
7) Halls Of Summer
8) Gone in Bloom and Bough
9) Arcs of Command
11) Fire Made Flesh