March 9, 2020

I have a confession to make. I am not a prog rock fan. There, I have said it. Normally, such a statement would be a complete irrelevance – but there is a point and that is that good music crosses boundaries and bridges the gaps between like and dislike. Where others have failed, The Dame changed my mind.

It was in a slightly different life that I came across Dutch quintet The Dame and their debut album Losing Sight Of What You Want – released independently in 2018 – an album where on one listen, chords are struck and pennies dropped, attention is caught by a sense of intrigue and the discovery is flavour and texture; an air of enigma, style and eloquence, all wrapped up in its seven tracks that over a period of time have just got better and better.

This is The Dame’s first ever UK tour and the band has travelled between two storms battering this fair isle to arrive in Barnsley on a particularly dreary Friday night. It is London based quartet IT that opens proceedings and are immediately British about mentioning the weather. How miserable it is outside does pale into insignificance though when IT begin their 90minute set which is truly outstanding and from that non-prog rock perspective, it is quite something to witness; bounced extremes in coalescence.

There is something almost punk about the band, the very social conscience lyrics hit home when we exist in such dark times, and then throw in some Porcupine Tree and it is quite a powerful combination. Andy Rowberry’s guitar work is tight and fluid, vocalist/guitarist Nick Jackson’s vocal lines are stunning and face a small crowd with the eye contact and from that perspective, it is impossible not to get lost in the song as well as the musicianship. Path Of Least Resistance to put it simply is awesome. The vocal melodies send shivers but when Rowberry hits that solo at the five minute mark then goddamn if the spine does not tingle to firestarter levels. Bassist Mark Gatland never stops moving and it is quite hypnotic seeing him so invested in the material and even when he does not offer backing vocals, the words still come out of his mouth. Power is another incredible track, a jerky rhythm that gets the body moving as does the equally danceable House. IT do cross some musical bridges and there is a cinematic personality to them and their sound, the attention to detail is as prevalent in the live performance as it is on their latest album We’re All In This Together. With news that older albums are to be re-recorded, there is more to come from IT but do not stay away from the live arena too long, gentlemen.

The Dame is a fascinating prospect. By their own description, we are transported back to the ‘romantic era of the roaring ’20s…where gentleman were stylish and the ladies were sexy chic…’ and before The Dame has even struck a note there is an air of class about them and this is no gimmick, this is oozing style that fits around the music like a custom made glove. It is impossible not to be drawn in by the waistcoats, the two tone shoes and a beautiful lady with a top hat and a guitar…

The Dame is a band about contrasts and there is something of a juxtaposition, the look and the style and some quite dark lyrical work within the songs themselves. On The Last Dance, there is a sparkle in vocalist/guitarist Marian Van Charante’s eye when she breathes “we’re coming for you, don’t think that we won’t…” and you better believe that it is true; a sweet serenade that offers the sinister and there is it again on Faking It In Monaco, another twinkle when Van Charante delivers the line “…she’s got her eye on you, she’s got her eye on your wallet…” and hands up who tapped their back pocket. These lines are delivered with such panache, a quirky smile, a tip of the hat and it is absolutely mesmerising. Naturally, Marian Van Charante is a focal point but this is no mere backing band, this is a tight unit that are so well honed that it adds to that charisma and pulling us in; there is nothing else but that stage and that sound. The Dame is heavier live than on the album, there are still the intricacies and the nuance is unmissable but when the guitar sound really kicks in and the riffs flow, it is heavy which is bolstered by a sound man that knows what he is doing. The solo on Water Tumbles Down is incredible enough on the album but live it is something else and Stephen De Ruijter is one hell of a guitarist. That solo is just magnificent; he even drops his stage persona for a brief moment and throws the horns as if to say “nailed it!” and followed by a cheeky grin from a man that is well in charge of his instrument. There is the same power in the solo on The Last Dance and De Ruijter has his eyes closed, head aloft as he ekes out every drop from those strings.

Bassist Michel Krempel throws some wicked shapes among his bass lines, he will cosy up to Van Charante and it is almost submissive and the next moment, it is foot on the monitor all ‘rock star’ like or sharing space with Stephen De Ruijter. Thy Father’s Bidding is very piano led and there is an extraordinary moment when keys man Thijs De Ruijter leans his entire forearm on his instrument to get a dramatic note and while we do not see that much of drummer Remco Engels, he often holds his sticks high and his solid drumming is the backbone of a band so in tune with each other and their songs. Conveniently Distant is introduced for the “prog heads” and at 20 minutes and its two parts – Sliding and Release Of The Demons – De Ruijter’s floaty guitar takes us a spiral down and Van Charante’s vocal melodies soar during this somewhat dream like composition before the guitar tone changes, Krempel’s bass line underpins and then at the five minute mark, the pace changes once more and another solo that just melts Sliding before bleeding into the second part, Release Of The Demons and the bass drum picking up the pace – 20 minutes feels like a quarter of that time during what is a breathless journey. Showcasing two new songs in Unfazed and All That Rumbles, The Dame clearly has their sights set on the next phase of their career.

Three hours of music that is nothing short of flawless and performed in front of a small but enthusiastic crowd, the intimacy enhancing the performance even more. This first UK tour is baby steps for sure but on the strength of this performance, The Dame has a bright future; music’s best kept secret at the moment but watch out – not for long – there really is a new Dame in town and she is looking for you…