It might have been a cold and wet autumn evening, but it isn’t every day that my favourite band tours within an hour’s drive of my house, not when I live in what feels like the middle of nowhere. It felt like a lifetime of watching clips and seeing photographs from the preceding five weeks of the European tour but finally, Evergrey had arrived in Norwich alongside their touring partners, openers Kobra And The Lotus and the headliners Delain. I’m not going to make my usual comment about Evergrey and the fact that they should have been the headliners…oh, damn, I just have. Oops.
I left work early, gave my children a quick hug and then scampered off up the main road that links Ipswich to Norwich. Huge metropolitan cities these are not, so it was an after-dark journey dominated by single carriageway roads, punctuated by pockets of heavy rain and occasional slow-moving farm vehicles. Welcome to East Anglia!
But it was all worth it because on arrival, I get a message from Evergrey founder Tom Englund to say that the band are heading to a local restaurant not far from the venue. Apparently, I’m invited, even though it means that everyone has to move tables to accommodate some imposter to the group. Warm greetings are exchanged with every member before we get down to the important stuff: eating, chatting about music and trashing each other’s football teams of choice.
After the meal, Tom, Rikard and Johan all wander back to the venue whilst Jonas and Henrik head off in a different direction, in search of ice cream or some such. I’m invited onto the tour bus to have a more in-depth chat about the world of Evergrey before I join a gently increasing queue outside the venue. I make it in to the Waterfront just in time to witness Canadian metal band Kobra And The Lotus take to the stage.
Having never really investigated the sounds of Kobra And The Lotus before, I was pleasantly surprised with what I witnessed. Altogether heavier than I was expecting, they had some solid beats, riffs and solos as well as a definite stage presence that kept me interested throughout, albeit through the fog and mud of a less-than-stellar sound. Nevertheless, it is always exciting to hear a new band on stage and the hard rock/heavy metal sounds of Kobra And The Lotus were good enough that I have since delved into the band’s back catalogue to discover more.
Frontwoman Kobra Paige was a striking focal point, dressed in figure-hugging gold attire and covered in tattoos. The visuals were complimented by a delivery that was full of attitude and explosive energy, and not just from Paige. All members of the band contributed to the enjoyable opening salvo, including the Lemmy look-alike bassist Brad Kennedy and golden-haired guitarist Jasio Kulakowski, who together breathed life and an honest grit into some well-crafted heavy metal songs.
At a mere 30 minutes, the set was short and sweet but in that time, it appeared that the growing crowd liked what they heard.
And with that, it was time for the main event, at least as far as I was concerned. The lights went down and five shadowy figures took to the stage before launching into a blistering rendition of ‘Passing Through’, one of two excellent new songs from the Swedish dark melodic progressive metaller’s latest opus ‘The Storm Within’.
I may have been in the photo pit, but I couldn’t concentrate on taking pictures. Besides, I’m rubbish at photography and had an entirely inadequate lens on my camera. So, I just made use of having the best seat in the house to witness guitarist/vocalist Tom Englund, guitarist Henrik Danhage, keyboardist Rikard Zander, bassist Johan Niemann and drummer Jonas Ekdahl blast the crowd away with a blend of hugely powerful and emotional music performed with a level of skill and professionalism that spoke volumes.
Before I went into the pit, I happened to mention in passing to the friendly security chap how important Evergrey are to me. Quite unexpectedly then, after the three opening songs were up and I was ushered from the pit, I was invited with a smile to watch the rest of the show at the side of the stage. Talk about VIP treatment.
I have seen Evergrey countless times over the past 12 years, but I have yet to see the band deliver anything other than a quality, breathless performance. And this gig was no different. I would have dearly loved a longer set than 45 minutes which equated to just eight songs but what Evergrey lacked in length of set, they made up for in quality.
As is common place, Tom’s inter-song self-deprecating humour and dry wit was a joy to hear, getting the crowd on-side almost immediately by making them laugh openly on a frequent basis. However, it was the music itself that made the greatest impression on people if the rapt faces in the crowd, the parting applause and the queues to meet the band after the show were anything to go by.
Alongside another new song, ‘In Orbit’, we got to hear, amongst others, the up-tempo anthem that’s ‘Broken Wings’, the darkly progressive magnificence of ‘A Touch Of Blessing’, the utterly sensational and highly melodic ‘Black Undertow’ and the blistering intensity and grandiosity of ‘King Of Errors’, one of my favourite songs of 2014.
The sound wasn’t perfect, but that had more to do with the unique acoustics of the venue than anything else. And yet, the majesty and strength of the material shone through as well as the subtlety created by Zander’s atmospheric keys. The superb rhythm section of Ekdahl and Niemann never missed a beat, Englund’s vocals were on point and my spine tingled when Danhage took centre stage to deliver a soulful and heartfelt lead guitar solo at the midway point.
‘Wow, they were superb’, said a friend to me when it was all over. I’d banged on to them for years about how good Evergrey were, but it was this live show that convinced them. All I could do was smile knowingly, maybe even smugly and utter ‘that’s why they are the best band in the world’.
If truth be told, I was considering making an exit after Evergrey as Delain are not normally my particular cup of tea. I like some of it but in general, I have grown tired over the years of the female-fronted symphonic melodic metal genre. However, after having a chat with a couple of friends I’d not seen for months, and because I wanted to say cheerio to the Evergrey chaps, I was in the venue as the Dutch band took to the stage.
And, as it turns out, I am glad I stayed. Within seconds, I found myself smiling as the sextet bounded onto the stage with an abundance of energy and enthusiasm. There were perhaps as few as 400 people in this small venue in Norfolk, but Delain did not care, as they set about entertaining the hardcore that were there and were ready to have a party.
Bedecked in a sparkly mini dress and flowing black and red hair, Charlotte Wessels looked every inch the rockstar to lead the band but it was her warm smile that caught my attention most of all. In fact, everywhere I looked on stage, all I could see were smiles.
Celebrating their 10 year anniversary, Delain were like an undeniable force of nature, able to sweep the crowd up and carry them along for the ride without any apparent effort whatsoever. In a live setting, many of their better-known tracks made more sense and sounded that little more powerful and I will admit to being one of those that was ultimately swept away.
It’s fair to say that Delain are not the most technical or complex of bands. What they do is create memorable music full of big choruses and melodies. And they do it very well. Neither are Delain, Wessels apart, the most striking of bands visually. In fact, from the back-to-front baseball cap wearing drummer Ruben Israel, to the minute new rhythm guitarist Merel Bechtold, they are a somewhat incongruous sight. That said, watching the interaction between the band members and their rapport with the crowd was an utter joy.
The polished and thoroughly entertaining set included the vast majority of latest release ‘Moonbathers’ as well as older numbers like ‘Stay Forever’ and ‘The Gathering’. And I must admit that earworm tracks like ‘Hands Of Gold’ and ‘The Glory And The Scum’ sat lodged in my head well into the following day, a sign of the impact that they had on me throughout the night.
And then it was all over. I said a quick goodbye to the guys in Evergrey before heading off in search of my car and a misty, cold drive home. The smile plastered on my face almost exclusively over the following day or so was testament to a genuinely fun and highly entertaining evening, both on and off the stage.