Covenant/RBN/Dreams Divide

O2 Academy, London - 10 September 2011

"Eskil forges ever onward to the future"

[Dreams Divide]

From a standing start of never having heard of them a few months ago, through their promising debut album Puppet Love, and now to my first sampling of them live, UK double act Dreams Divide [Photo: right] have rapidly made a strong impression. Not least because in front man David Crout and synth player and vocalist Gem Davison, they have two of the most attention grabbing voices that have been heard on the UK alternative electronic scene for quite a while. The album blends electronic pop/borderline industrial with heavy trance elements giving a lot of what they do a dark dance edge. In the recordings, Crout’s voice is strong, but it’s Davison’s ability to project a rich and powerful female voice that really sets Dreams Divide apart.

The question was always going to be: could both these strong recorded vocals be delivered in a live setting. Tonight Dreams Divide provided the answer in no uncertain terms: you bet your ass they can! Clearly fired up and energised to be opening for such a legendary name as Covenant, not only did they both unquestionably acquit themselves vocally, but their performance overcame any presentational limitations of the typical up front lead vocalist and solo synth player setup. Crout never stopped pacing around the stage, sometimes, with the occasional skip(!), bearing a passing resemblance to VNV Nation’s Ronan Harris. He did everything within his power to work up an already big crowd and they responded massively. I suspect after their set the band shifted a good few copies of their album and can count significant numbers added to a growing fan base. 

SETLIST: Intro, John, Complex, Due, Desire, Face, Puppet Love

RBN were next up and they’ve clearly been investing since I last saw them. They had some impressive visuals accompanying them throughout their set and recent production work by Rotersand’s Krischan Wesenberg could clearly be heard in some of the newer material. Nevertheless, there remains a gulf between what they do and what I admire – though plenty in the crowd were vocal in their support. A particularly ill-advised and executed (for that is indeed the right word!) cover of Ultravox’s beautiful Visions In Blue was the lowlight.

Ever since I first heard them, Covenant [Photos: below] have been one of my favourite acts, in recorded and live terms. In recent years my enthusiasm for the former has dipped a little, but their reputation for delivering shows with a rare energy and passion remains largely intact. They are one of those bands that when they are in your country you really should have it as a priority to see them. Whether it is your first or, like tonight for me, your umpteenth Covenant gig, you can generally be assured of a quality night’s entertainment. Although, in recent times this was by no means guaranteed. When I saw them in Berlin last summer they were seriously disappointing with founder member Joakim Montelius so out of it (for whatever reason) he was incapable of standing let alone perform.

Tonight was a rescheduled gig, originally due to have taken place in April. It was the first chance the UK had to hear the band promote their latest, seventh studio album Modern Ruin. The album itself was severely delayed, which possibly knocked back some live dates, and one can’t help wonder if all these challenges Covenant have faced in recent times are connected. It still came as something of a shock though to discover that on stage tonight only one of the original members was present – lead vocalist Eskil Simonsson. Joakim’s role on synths and backing vocal tonight was taken up by Dupont member Danucci (fellow Swedes Dupont supported Covenant on their 2002 Northern Light tour). Ironic then that the pre-event press spoke of the band members as sharing a “Bond thicker than blood”… that sees only one third of the original band here tonight. It was a real shame, and as much as Danucci did a respectful job his voice is quite different from Montelius’ and his character very different (reserved, perhaps deliberately, rather than eccentric as Joakim often can be).




The one and a half hour set was the chronologically broad range that we’ve come to expect from Covenant, opening with Stalker from their 1996 second album Sequencer. (If only all long-running bands were so happy playing older material. Yes, I’m staring particularly hard at you Depeche Mode!) They never bludgeon you to death with new material even when, like this, on a tour to promote the latest album. Curiously, I’ve still not yet purchased it, having not been totally convinced when listening to snippets online. After tonight my view may have changed and I’ll certainly revisit that lack of acquisition. For most the new material sounded pretty good. 

But then, that’s Covenant live - driven by one of the best front/show men in the business in Simonsson and having a back catalogue of the calibre they do, they regularly deliver faithful but energised versions of their recorded output. The lengthy instrumental version of Wir Sind die Nacht, from limited edition digipak of Modern Ruin, was terrific, and it would be good to hear Covenant trying out more in this style rather than attempting to repeat a previously successful formula.

Simonsson spoke of his pleasure at being able to perform for the London audience songs from their latest album for the first time. Although he never directly explained or acknowledged Montelius’ absence, he appeared to reference it several times. “This is another song I wrote with Joakim for our album Modern Ruin” he said once. There was also his delivery of certain lyrics and the in-song contemplative observations and adlibbing for which he’s well known, seemingly also pointing to his friend’s non-appearance. On We Stand Alone the line “I stand alone…” seemed to be delivered with a vigour (bordering on frustration) remarkable even by Simonsson’s standards. When he repeated the line he tweaked it: “We stand alone…it’s not so bad”! On Happy Man he could have been referring to the general global economic malaise or, again the absent member, when he paused at one moment additionally asking “Thanks for joining the celeberation... and what is there to celebrate”, and “But, that’s okay, I like to look forward”.

And he does. In spite of all the challenges and setbacks, Eskil forges ever onward to the future, a place that for him always holds the promise to be better than today. He still manages to find joy in the power of positive thinking and the collective human spirit. And that’s why we still love him back. 8/10

Rob Dyer