Covenant, Sweden's finest musical export, have just released a live DVD of their Skyshaper tour which ran for 18 months during 2006/7. As part of that tour the band played one night at London's Islington Academy. Somehow, don't ask me how, I missed the gig. I did not know it was on and missed it. I was gutted. So when this exclusive one-off UK show was announced I recorded the date everywhere imaginable, to be sure the same mistake would not be made twice. It wasn't.
Mechanical Cabaret had the honour of beginning the evening's events. Their energetic performance, largely thanks to front man Roi, got the already big crowd warmed up very nicely. Disbehave was introduced as their new single, a wise choice indeed. For a while, I thought When We Go We Go Together (from their first album We Have An Agenda) was a new song, it sounded so fresh.
Continuing their ability to catch you off guard, a cover of Fun Boy 3's The Lunatics (Have Taken Over The Asylum) was leftfield but slotted in surprisingly well into the seven song set. As one of the UK hardest working live acts Mechanical Cabaret are clearly building up something of a dedicated following. Good luck to them.
It's fair to say that Client and DSO have not had the best of relationships. Some less then entirely favourable reviews of previous live Client performances resulted in the DSO office receiving hate email from the band! It's a welcome pleasure then to say that, for the first time in my experience, not only did I enjoy a Client set but I began to see how it is supposed to work. I'd heard there had been some personnel changes to the band but I didn't notice any. However, on the strength of this gig, something has somehow managed to galvanise the ladies and, finally, I could see what the band had been aiming at all along. Though still not a total convert, my ability to give them a fair hearing tonight means that any future gigs will, at least, not be approached with the sense of apathy I may once have had. Indeed, the very fact that I will be attending them at all is a major step forward! Tonight they were tighter, more cohesive than I've witnessed before, and loss of a member or not, produced a beefier sound. Blackwood's vocals too were much improved. The svelte bassist may have had me transfixed for about half the set but I assure you my judgement was in no way impaired, and you may rely upon this review as an impartial and fair assessment of the band's improved constitution.
Following the strains of V2 Schneider from Bowie's classic Low album, Eskil Simmonson and Joakim Montelius took to the stage of the Electric Ballroom which was wall to wall, front to back, packed with Covenant fans. The third live member slot taken up by electronic music genius (and longtime friend) Daniel Myer now that Clas Nachmanson has left the band. Although Myer had gone to the trouble of wearing a tie for the event he'll never blend into the smart suit and ties styling of the original Covenant lineup, as his trademark cap only proved. A cap and a tie. What kind of sartorial sense is that?! Fortunate then that we we not here for a lesson is dress sense but musical mastery; and that we most certainly got.
I have such a overwhelming affinity with the compositional style of Covenant over their 20 years of creativity that my objectivity may be questionable. I would, however, be the first to admit that there are (frequently) times when what the band members are actually doing live cannot possibly go far to accounting for the amount of noise that comes out of the loudspeakers. Whilst I don't actually find this a problem, it does give fuel to those who wish to discredit the 'live' nature of entirely electronic acts like Covenant. Not that anyone in the audience tonight gave a damn about such things mind. OK, injection of objectivity over, how did this rank as a Covenant gig? Sadly, I can only give you an answer based upon less than one hour of consumption. Having waited more than a year to make up for my mistake of missing them, I was cruelly restricted to catching only the first 50 minutes of their set as I had to dash off to catch a train home, ready for a holiday flight to Portugal the next day.
One of the best things about Covenant's live shows is that their sets repeatedly draw on their entire back catalogue rather than serve to act as a promotional exercise for the latest album. Tonight was no exception, with what I heard heavily weighted towards 2002's Northern Lights album with some four songs. The set opened with Monochrome, followed by Bullet. We Stand Alone also appeared as did the sublime Invisible and Silent. The latter was an astonishing rendition and an especially emotional performance from Simmonson, who said afterwards: "Sorry, sometimes I get carried away".
Surprise of the night was a performance of a new song called, I think, Get On With You. It was an brave choice. A low-tempo number that was largely an instrumental bar the limited Eskil whispered vocals, this sounded more like a work in progress than the obvious hi BPM, hit 'em between the eyes number that tends to go with most live debuts of new songs. A reworked Figurehead was a fine example of the older material, with Simmonson acknowledging pioneers Front 242 during the chorus with several rounds of "Body to body", and style wise you couldn't help but wonder if Mr Myer had a hand in the rewiring. Further evidence of Covenant's justified status as a great live act could be found in The Men. A somewhat middling track from the last album was transformed tonight as a highlight with Myer providing additional live drums, a new feature that worked well (and was used more than once).
Given that this was a one-off show and not part of a series of UK dates, there was none of the usual live paraphernalia that one might expect from a Covenant tour - no special lighting rig and no projections of any kind. But that didn't matter. I may have only been able to listen to 50 minutes worth of stand alone music, but 50 minutes spent in the company of Covenant live is as good as several gigs worth of most other bands. 8/10