LIVE: Renaissance 50th Anniversary Tour @ The Hart Theatre at The Egg, 10/19/2019

Renaissance made a welcome return visit to the Hart theatre at the Egg last Saturday as part of their 50th anniversary tour. They last played the venue 2 years ago almost to the day, and were once again augmented by the ten piece “Renaissance Chamber Orchestra.” This works splendidly well, as Renaissance always were one of the most “classical” of the seventies era’s classic prog bands.

A few things differentiated Renaissance from their prog contemporaries:

  1. A female lead singer. Seventies prog was a bit of a boy’s club, and female vocalists were few and far between. Certainly there were few with Annie Haslam’s operatic range and grace.
  2. Piano as lead instrument. Prog bands were big on keyboards and the more the merrier. There seemed to be an ongoing competition as to who could have the biggest rig, stacks of keyboards teetering on either side of an invariably caped player. Not so Renaissance. Favoring actual orchestrations to provide color, John Tout of the seventies “classic” line up basically stuck to grand piano, essaying lengthy florid introductions and ornate solos to their lush tone poems.
    Current musical director Rave Tesar does a fine job of replicating these essential parts.
  3. The lack of electric guitar. Even though the seventies band had a guitarist (and primary composer) in Michael Dunford, he played strictly acoustic. Indeed pretty much the only lead electric guitar solo in the band’s entire repertoire – the soaring climax to traditional show closer “Ashes are burning” – was not even played by a member of Renaissance on the original album. Instead it was handled by Andy Powell, of then label mates Wishbone Ash. Tonight Mark Lambert sticks to the script, and only straps on an electric for a decent pass at that very same solo at the end of the performance.

Renaissance were formed in 1969 by 2 members of the Yardbirds, but in an unprecedented move changed their entire line up just 2 years into their career. That’s right – the only thing that the band who recorded their second album and the one that recorded their third had in common was the band’s moniker. Which is why in greeting us Haslam quipped “Welcome to our 50th anniversary, 48th”.

Haslam is the only member of that classic line up still in place. She relocated to the States and put this version together in the early 2000’s with American musicians.

As well as Tesar and Lambert, the line up now comprises of drummer Frank Pagano, bass player Leo Traversa and second keyboardist Geoff Langley.

As mentioned the orchestra works perfectly, beautifully enhancing this stately and dramatic music.

Haslam is now in her early seventies, and to her credit, doesn’t duck the big notes and hits most of them. They also stick to the original arrangements, no slowing of tempos or lowering of octaves here, and this is very demanding on the vocalist. Consequently she does stray off pitch at times, for example audibly struggling with the escalating build up to the big chorus of “Mother Russia.”

It may be prudent to invest in a couple of backing vocalists to lighten Haslam’s load and to bolster the harmonies. The band members do attempt them, but their efforts I would charitably describe as “tentative.”

Still, these are minor quibbles, and the warm and appreciative audience showed no such misgivings, whooping their support and repeatedly springing to their feet as the band and Haslam deftly negotiated a well loved passage.

At times, when Annie’s voice soared, the band locked in, and the orchestra swelled gloriously, you could close your eyes and almost be transported back to those heady days of kaftans, loon pants and incense.

Set list : Carpet of the sun, Ocean Gypsy, Running Hard, Midas Man, Symphony of Light, Island Opening out, Day of the dreamer, The Mystic and the Muse, Mother Russia, A song for all seasons, Ashes are burning.

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