“So, who are we going to see again?” asks my forgetful friend. “Blackwood?””Erm, no, Blackfield,” I reply. “Ahh,” she says, knowingly, taking in the young, excitable audience all clad in a uniform of black in an ’80s, dark gothic dream of a venue.
Special guests Anathema have already played their set and Blackfield’s Steven Wilson is readying himself to take to the stage for an acoustic solo session before playing with his creative other half, Israeli superstar Aviv Geffen. But how many of those eager fans would have expected Wilson, best known as prog rock outfit Porcupine Tree‘s front man, to sing Agnetha from ABBA‘s delicate ballad The Day Before You Came. How many, indeed, would have even recognised the hit?
“Not so unexpected actually,” pipes in one of Wilson’s crew when we exclaim surprise from our bar-side viewing point. “Steve’s a real ABBA fan.” So far, so unexpected. Even prog-rockers have their cheesy side. He returns quickly after finishing his 20-minute solo set with Geffen and their band of Israeli musicians.
This is what the 300-strong throng have been patiently waiting for. And from the very opening bars of first song Open Mind Blackfield have the audience lapping it up. They make an odd couple on stage, Wilson and Geffen – the former barefoot, with shoulder-length hair and Lennon-esque owl glasses – the latter a modern day dandy sporting army boots, sharp suit jacket shirt and tie and… matching knickerbockers.
Both contrast strongly with each other and the audience. Stark those differences may be, but together they balance. Musically too, Geffen curtails the epic ambitions of Wilson, who in turn lends an air of experimentation and eclecticism to the poppier sensibilities of the Israeli. Prog-pop, perhaps?
From title track Blackfield, through Glow and Lullaby, they play simple and stirring songs with sometimes a minor-key piano tremble here, a plaintive guitar solo there. They play deftly with the songs’ skeletons, fleshing them out here and there, teasing the rhythms and harmonies until, when the audience can bear it no more, they unleash a melodic, multi-layered wall of sound that you can feel beneath the ground. There’s a quivering intensity about Blackfield that’s impossible to capture completely on disc.
The two share singing duties between them. Geffen works his elegant, sinuous charms as lead vocalist on The Hole in Me and Pain while Wilson softly leads the way on the album’s remaining tracks, his smooth and almost echoey delivery suiting the more melancholic material down to the ground.
When I reviewed this debut album I said I wasn’t completely convinced by Blackfield, but that they probably sounded sensational live. On Friday they did.