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(185 min DVD / MetalMind Records)
TRACK LIST: 1. Higher Circles 2. The Pleasure of Hope 3. Leviathan 4. Victims of Life 5. Armageddon 6. Fly High Fall Far 7. Excalibur 8. Please 9. Oh Divineo 10. Alaska 11. Dark Summer's Day 12. Circus 13. The Black Knight 14. 2AM 15. Stan & Ollie LINEUP: Nick Barrett - lead vocals; guitars Clive Nolan - keyboards; backing vocals Peter Gee - bass; backing vocals Joe Crabtree - drums; backing vocals Julian Baker - saxophone; guitar Rik Carter - keyboards John Barnfield - keyboards
Prolusion. I'm sure PENDRAGON need no introduction, as one of the most popular bands that came out from England at the dawn of the neo-prog movement. Only some seven months have passed since I reviewed their DVD "And Now Everybody to the Stage", and yet here they are with their new release, "Past & Present", which is also a DVD.
Analysis. As I remember, this is the first time that Pendragon don't appear as a quartet. Seven musicians took part in this concert, so it is no surprise that the band's sound on this DVD is richer than usual. The content of "Past & Present" is completely different from the band's previous DVD (see track-listing above for greater convincingness:-), most of the songs performed dating from the ensemble's early years, particularly many from their debut album "The Jewel". Nevertheless, despite all the said differences between the two releases, I experience certain difficulties in describing "Past & Present". The fact is that Pendragon have never betrayed the style they've been playing in since the very beginning of their work (which is certainly not the same as their chosen genre, Neo Symphonic Progressive), their resent onstage appearances all being particularly striking in this respect. One may disagree with me on the matter, citing "Kowtow" as an example, but personally I view that recording as nothing other than the band's only attempt to simplify their style. So those reading this review please don't mentally reproach me for being terse and, perhaps, somewhat banal as well. The concert itself exceeds 100 minutes in duration and, as ever, Pendragon prove to be first-rate musicians, maintaining a very high level of performance throughout. None of the songs is a makeweight, but it is Alaska, The Black Knight and Leviathan (all from "The Jewel") and also the instrumental Excalibur, which so to speak crown my personal hit-parade list of the set present. One of several tunes where saxophone solos are introduced into their structures, the concluding piece Stan And Ollie is vastly expanded in comparison to its studio version. Pink Floyd and Genesis both can serve as reference points for neophytes, though on the other hand the influences are in most cases barely perceptible. Over the more than twenty years of their activity the group has had enough time to almost fully dissolve outside factors in their own approach. None of the musicians appears to be the victim of bad camera angles, but of course Nick Barrett is in the spotlight more frequently than his partners. The sound of the DVD is crystal clear throughout, while visually this is probably Pendragon's most interesting video production ever, a fact only partly connected with their unusual appearance this time around, meaning as a septet. Without going into details of the behavior of the audience in the hall (you have to see that with your own eyes), I only mention that the enthusiasm, they meet literally each of the numbers with, is something that many other representatives of the genre can only dream of. The DVD includes quite a traditional set of 'extras', e.g. backstage footage, the band's history, discography, photo gallery and so on, of which only the interview with Mick Barrett and John Barnfield might be of interest to any viewer.
Conclusion. Of course, Pendragon's music can hardly be considered to be as changeable as their homeland's weather in autumn, but its relative predictability does not in the least diminish its overall value. With their always interestingly arranged compositions, Pendragon are nowadays definitely in the vanguard of the neo-prog scene and are generally one of the few neo heroes whose music I not only appreciate, but also sincerely enjoy.
VM: September 20, 2007
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