February 21, 2021

One of the big debates which perennially rages around progressive rock forums, argued about endlessly by men who should really have more to think about, is whether ‘prog rock’ should be a sound harking back to the golden age of the ’70s or whenever, or whether it should be literally ‘progressive’, constantly trying to change at every turn and avoid repeating anything which has gone before – sometimes at the expense of whether the music is actually enjoyable to listen to or not. This album, recorded by British band IT at the Progdreams festival in Holland in 2019, loudly answers this question with ‘Neither, you gang of absolute fools, it’s just about the music!’ And so it is here, from beginning to end. IT don’t want to don capes, use flutes and mellotrons or compose fifteen minute suites based on Alice Through The Looking Glass. But by the same token, neither do they have any desire to bombard the listener with an onslaught of time changes and ‘challenging’ approaches to melody and harmony. They just want to get on the stage, play some well constructed songs with relevant and thought-provoking lyrics, and hit the audience with some honest to goodness rock. And Good Lord, doesn’t it pay dividends!

Having enjoyed the band’s We’re All In This Together album very much, but not knowing their whole catalogue by any means, this was an album which piqued my interest right away. I’d heard they put on a great show, and that they were the kind of modern ‘prog’ band who could appeal right across the board to everyone from casual music listeners through prog die-hards and even on to metalheads. I liked that idea, and this being a CD and DVD package gave me the opportunity to blast the music out in the car and also sit back and check out their stagecraft. To most people, the audio is probably the more important, as they will listen more often than they will watch, so I’ll start with that.

The hour-long set (more or less) covers ten songs, so it’s clear that 20-minute epics aren’t the order of the day. And indeed, they prefer to package their music in more compact, hard-hitting chunks overall – though there is a notable exception in The Path Of Least Resistance, a real mid-set highlight which shows throughout its ten-plus minutes that IT can do complex and subtle songcraft with the best of them, and the track marries a compelling lyric with a roller-coaster of mood changes which never sound forced or disjointed. There are real dramatic peaks here as well, and overall it is one of two jewels I would pick out of this crown. The other is the relatively low-key The Working Man, which demonstrates that, while power and heaviness is a big part of the band’s stock in trade, they can hold back, let the melody take the strain and really make you sit up and take notice of the beautifully relevant and resonant lyric. Again, IT don’t do fantasy. They do real life, and they hold it up to you like a mirror, and occasionally ask ‘so, do you see yourself in this?’ – and the impact is all the greater for it. The Working Man might not be the most demonstrative, dramatic or powerful track here on the surface, but damned if it might not just be the very best!

Elsewhere you get power and you get groove. A big riff or a vaguely metallic turn is never far away on highlights like Killing Me, Gamble The Dream or the two-part Stand Back. Several tracks reveal the band’s way with a funky, dirty groove when they drop down from a big chorus to a more sinuous verse, and it’s another facet which makes them seem very ‘modern’ without ever having any air of striving too hard to be so. They play the songs they want to write, and they give the audience a good old-fashioned rock show while they’re at it. Revolution, which I believe was a single, has the attitude which could put it in the ballpark of prime Noel Gallagher – and I mean that very much as a compliment. The bitter, sardonic God Is Dead, meanwhile, recalls Roger Waters at his most caustic. So, to go back to the opening point – yes, there are touchstones referenced here, but without ever sounding dated, and no, it never ever sounds self-consciously ‘clever’ and pushing boundaries for the sake of it. Boundaries don’t exist when there is great music to simply flow right over them.

To move onto the DVD portion of the package, it does what it says on the tin: it’s a filmed version of the show. You get the same music, and apart from a brief photo gallery, you don’t get a host of extras. But the show itself is beautifully filmed, with the light show perfectly highlighting it. Some of the better tracks on the audio disc gain still greater resonance here, with the charismatic delivery of frontman Nick Jackson and the effortless class of guitarist Andy Rowberry of particular note. There is a little bit of use of film clips here and there to break things up a little, but only occasionally and never obtrusively. It’s a perfect complement to the audio recording.

If you’ve already come to love these guys, you’ll need this for sure. But if you are new to them, or like me have a passing knowledge, then take it as a given that this is as good an introduction to the band as you could really want. To quote one of those 1970s giants Genesis for just one time… ‘IT is here, IT is now…’ – here’s your chance to grab a piece of IT! Do yourself a favour… IT’s good for what ails ya…