Diagonal, The Laze & Balloons: Monochrome, Liverpool


My saxophone’s bigger than your saxophone.

Is it possible to have too many saxophones? Or indeed, is it just how you use your saxophone, which really matters?
Who cares. Tonight, the sax is king. So too is the mellotron, matching paisley shirt and tie combo and proposterous amounts of wigging out.
For we lucky souls have entered the world of progressive rock. A world of never-ending happenings, colour and delirium. A world were the drum solo isn’t just an addition, it’s a given. A glorious ingredient thrown in to a melting pot rich in variety and hearty exploration.
You have to worry for those that fear the progressive route. Lacking in patience, adventure and ambition can scupper many an ear, but tonight Monochrome welcomes a plethora of guests eager to journey to a topographic ocean of ridiculously fine instrumentation and ear-ragging bedlam.
But first a word on Monochrome, a venue which proves a welcome addition to the Pool’s gig circuit having opened its weighty wooden and chrome doors officially on New Year’s Eve, but began hosting live music in March. Not to mention bi-weekly Donkay! comedy nights and a monthly Burletiquette burlesque night, in which Cookie, behind the bar, informs me she’ll be swallowing swords and breathing fire. Lovely.
Expansive, on three floors and superbly decked out, there’s not one but two gigs in process. Upstairs, among the sweeping bar (middling to pricey, if memory serves correct) and a floor littered with leather beanbags, there’s a ragtag bunch of gypsy-jazz and folkies plucking a multitude of string instruments and mighty double basses. All very pleasant and inviting, but it’s the multi-limbed prog blitz underway in the basement which sends us scuttling downstairs.
Balloons kick off proceedings with their spazzed out Sparks jitter. Regulars will be fully versed in their rarely-sticking-to-the-script tumble of pentangle riffs, ludicrous shifts in time, electronic tomfoolery aligned to vocal acrobatics requiring a large safety net.
Oh, and those nifty TV moniker T-shirts.
But for all their mastery of precision madness, there’s a distinct lack of memorable ear candy. Sure, they call to mind a shopping list of admirable influences (Devo, Battles, Clor to name but three), but are left a smidgeon wanting in the winning tunes sense. More, and better, to come we suspect.
The same can’t be said for The Laze. A 24-limbed monster whose impact is both immediate on the eyes as well as the ears, thanks primarily to saxophonist Chard (probably not his real name) who exists somewhere between Jim Carey and Ian McDonald; all elasticated facial muscles and lungs equipped to blow over a wooly mammoth.
As if we were in any doubt that we’re entering prog valley, Chard (an ‘acolyte of escaprism’, as their myspazz informs us) – rearranges our mind with both a tenor and a sopranino saxophone – that’s a big one and a little one – then adds a sprightly recorder just to drive home his point.
His energy is infectious and married to the blazing instrumental histrionics it’s a joy to behold.
Joining him in the visually hypnotic and daftly-named stakes is DÆv, bassist, moog-twinkler and from what we can gather Laze leader, who specialises in high-pitched yelps and exaggerated shape-throwing (at one point he leans back so far he perfects a fully-formed circle) which is most impressive given the finger action his bass is receiving.
Musically, they’re a hybrid of King Crimson, Dario Argento and jazzfunk. Yes, jazzfunk can sometimes be good. And in this case it’s positively life-affirming.
Such is the propulsion of DÆv and drummer ĕLL‘s (definitely not his real name) cosmic rhythms you could very probably filter this through speakers on Merseyrail and find the entire commuter belt vibrating involuntarily in some kind of bizarre progothon beatdown. Ah, we can but dream.
Completing our journey into progressive rock heaven (tonight goes under the banner Valhalla) is Brighton’s Diagonal.
Criminally, their set is reduced to at best 30 minutes; hardly ideal in the prog scheme of things. On the plus side, they were outrageously fine.
Semi Permeable Menbrain, the criminally-named, standout track from their recent eponymous debut record, is given an extended workout as Luke Foster brings a touch of Bonham to proceedings by nigh on reducing his kit to dust while the trio of Nicholas Richards, David Wileman and Daniel Pomlett go hell for leather on the electric guitars, not least on the fuzzrock roar of Cannon Misfire.
Their added level of subtlety and nouse for extended plateaus of near-silence, chiefly provided by Alex Crispin on keys, leads to punctuated dramatic highs and when the spectacle is brought to a thrilling, yet abrupt finish we’re left with the feeling that a second viewing can’t come soon enough. Prog on.