The Pineapple Thief
Saturday 11th February
Islington Assembly Hall, London
Progdate: Saturday 2nd August 2003. Deputising for the the missing Oxygen8 and supporting headliners Caravan - we had just witnessed The Pineapple Thief's first ever gig at The Whitchurch Prog Rock Musical Festival. It was a cracking set - so much so that we headed straight over to their merchandise stall and bought a signed version of 'Variations On A Dream/8 Days'. Now turn the clock forward 13 years or so plus eleven quality studio albums later and the Testbourne School Theatre gig is all but a distant memory as TPT marched into a sold out Islington Assembly Hall last Saturday night.
In fact the last time we saw TPT was at Ramblin' Man in 2015 following the release of their penultimate album 'Magnolia' in September 2014. With the trusty Prog backbone of Bruce Soord, John Sykes and Steve Kitch - an added attraction for the assembled masses was the addition of Porcupine Tree/King Crimson drummer Gavin Harrison to the fold - following his outstanding performance on TPT's latest offering 'Your Wilderness' - which we were about to witness live for the first time. Much was expected - and as usual - we were not disappointed!
The biggest surprise of the evening was the addition of Godsticks guitarist Darran Charles to the TPT ranks following their impressive support set. Indeed we saw Godsticks support TPT at The Underworld in 2011, a month before TPT supported Blackfield at the Shepherd's Bush Empire. There's no doubt that following this performance, there would be a number of TPT fans checking out Godsticks again, as I'm sure there were a number of Blackfield fans in the audience from that Shepherd's Bush gig six years ago. It is indeed a long hard climb up that Prog ladder as TPT can testify - so only time will tell whether the promising Godsticks can mirror their gradual rise.
Soord's acoustic intro to their up tempo opener 'Tear You Up' - belied the fact that this is perhaps TPT's heaviest track from 'Your Wilderness' - Harrison's drum rolls and their trademark stirring guitar(s) channelling into Sykes' bass laden verses propelling a slick riff. The first time we saw TPT debut 'Magnolia's 'The One You Left To Die' was at Islington's O2 Academy in 2014 - real British stock - again with Sykes' bass line taking centre stage from the beginning - building up - in true TPT style - into some more powerful riffing. Question: are John's two guitar pedals still labelled 'prunes & custard' and 'big muff'? 'No Man's Land' was the very first Youtube track I heard from 'Your Wilderness'. Soord's voice and haunting acoustic guitar melody duly carrying the audience before Harrison stepped in - his drumming the catalyst for a classic, but short, Prog outro by the band. 'Magonolia's rocker 'Alone At Sea' followed by the dreamy 'That Shore' from 'Your Wilderness' were further evidence of the musical balance of TPT - the former with Kitch's electronic wizardry, aggressive bombastic guitar riffs and booming melodies and the latter's softer blend.
On all of their albums, TPT never fail to deliver a Progtastic epic. In the case of 'All The Wars' that epic is 'Reaching Out' - it's delivery again making the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end ever since I first saw them debut this masterpiece at The Barfly in 2012. Ten minutes of pure, unadulterated joy, showcasing TPT as the ultimate unit - the compactness of the band never more apparent. Given the critical acclaim of 'All The Wars' - and on a night that would ultimately see half the set taken from 'Your Wilderness' - it's probably churlish to point out that this was disappointingly the only track to be aired from 'ATW' - the flip side of course being TPT's undoubted strength in content. Harrison's minimalistic opening drum groove gave way to Soord's crystal clear vocal along with a synth, bass lick and soft guitar lick on 'YW's deceptively catchy 'In Exile'. The more upbeat 'Take Your Shot' again from 'YW', with its atmospheric Brit-Pop feel, also had the power of both a strong chorus and a great lead guitar.
TPT then 'Show-ed A Little Love' to the guy standing next to me, resplendent in our matching 'Someone Here Is Missing' album t-shirts. This TPT stormer took me back to the end of 2011, following the release of 'SHIM', when we presented TPT with our WRC 'Best Prog Performance 2011' award before their London Borderline gig and our interview with Bruce before the release of their forthcoming album 'All The Wars' - how time flies! Soord and Kitch's unplugged collaboration between guitar and piano on 'YW's 'Fend For Yourself' more than made up for the absence of John Helliwell's clarinet solo, whilst, for all us Whitchurch/'Variations On A Dream' veterans, 'Part Zero' is always one of the highlights of a TPT gig - Bruce's effortless switch from acoustic to electric guitar made all the more easier with Darran's presence (Charles actually guested on 'YW') although trying to match Soord in who could look the scruffiest was taking his new gig a step too far! And it was at this point that I took my life in my hands as the gig was being filmed for DVD release - hence a clampdown on no pics or vids - although I did manage to vid most of 'PZ' before my officious steward friend told me to put my phone away!
The low-key, verbal intro to 'Simple As That' - their final track from 'Magnolia' slowly built up unsurprisingly into another explosion of power before they finished the set with their Progtastic epic from 'YW' 'The Final Thing On My Mind' - with its classic bittersweet Prog construction and its intricate rhythm - another opportunity for Harrison to show his mettle but not show off in another ten minute delight. On a night that centred around the new album - it was perhaps fitting that their deserved encore featured two classic TPT encore songs from the past. 'Snowdrops' from their 2006 'Little Man' album - perhaps interestingly the only album that has ever divided the TPT faithful - saw Soord perform a classic acoustic rendition - complemented by the accompanied hand clapping of the masses - although where was the guy from their 2011 Underworld gig who turned up as a penis? Bruce's hypnotic delivery of 'SHIM's Nothing At Best had the audience in the palm of his hand - this classic wringing every sinew out of Soord's TPT compadre's - always a great number to finish on.
But hang on, where were the TPT staples of the past such as 'Wake Up The Dead', '3000 Days', 'Preparation For Meltdown' 'My Debt To You' and 'So We Row'? Well if the social media comments after the gig of "Amazing", "Awesome", "Superb" and "Fantastic" were anything to go by - then the TPT faithful didn't really give a shit! Proof, if you needed it, of a band not resting on its laurels and further continuing its climb up that Prog ladder. Superb.