Review By Woody
Photos By Rob Stanley
After Epica’s frankly epic debut show at The Robin early in 2011 I was buzzing to see them return to the Robin. After a cautious collection of UK headline dates last time around which turned out to be highly successful, Epica return this time with a more extensive UK tour and obviously from my perspective it was great to see Epica return to the Robin after what was a truly spectacular gig. Obviously they had a lot to live up to but now they have an established foothold in the live scene here I’m sure many were keen to witness the band on their world ‘Requiem For The Indifferent’ tour.
Much like their last visit Epica have brought along an appropriate support act (nothing worse than seeing a death metal band open for an West Coast AOR band – trust me I’ve seen some right choices for support in my time!) and again an extremely popular act in their own right with Stream of Passion. I’m actually quite surprised these guys have never managed a few UK headline dates themselves so they proved popular when they were announced as support for this tour. I’m actually really familiar with the band, perhaps even more so than Epica, so I was pleased to see them strut around the boards at The Robin.
Obviously with these female fronted bands the focus will always been on the lady leading the charge, although Stream of Passion are a Dutch band their leading lady Marcela Bovio is actually from Mexico! She’s a confident front woman with a powerful vocal, admittedly not as strong as Epica front woman Simone Simons but then there aren’t many who could even rub shoulders with Simone so this is not a put down in any way. The positivity surrounding the bands support slot and rare opportunity to see the band in the UK, was visible amongst the crowd as a strong contingent of fans at the front made their voices heard and banged their heads for the entirety of the bands hour long set. I felt this was also a nice touch from Epica giving this band a decent set length giving their fan base a chance to see them perform properly and maybe giving them a leg up for their own future shows on UK soil.
Streams of Passion made the most of their time onstage and put on a grand show as a musical unit, the quality sound system at the robin gave the band a real presence and showed the band in all its glory which many small clubs would have robbed the band of. Marcela even dazzled us with a song with her playing a violin shaped like a flying V guitar, which was very amusing.
Amongst their set list we heard ‘Passion’, ‘Collide’, ‘Games We Play’, ‘My Leader’, ‘Out In The Real World’, ‘In The End’, a cover of Radiohead’s ‘Street Spirit’ and finale ‘This Endless Night’.
Judging by the crowd’s reaction the Stream of Passion guys appeased their fan base and then some, I’m sure this will pave a way for the band to return in the not too distant future.
With how packed the Robin was last time round for Epica I had decided to go as early as possible to get a drooling spot right up the front! So as I arrived bang on doors opening and with no queue, I thought ‘way hey’ I’m going to be in touching distance of Simone tonight. The self discipline I showed upon entering the gig room and seeing the dance floor half deep in people huddled together as close to the stage as they could squeeze and not charging them screaming and beating a path through them with my Simone Simons drool bucket deserves a Nobel peace prize. As my mate chuckled to himself it seems my fellow ‘leaches’ had gotten here first....oh the fookers....
Thankfully I still managed to get a great view of the stage albeit not in my favourite spot so I can’t complain too much! As the crew set up the stage for Epica I noticed Simone’s oddly shaped mic stand and wondering to myself what the hell it was about, it curved into a semi circle sticking out to her right. Within seconds of the bands opening number it was apparent why the mic was shaped the way it was and it wasn’t decorative as I had wondered it was actually a practical customisation to allow Simone to head bang and more importantly do what I call the ‘strawberry swirl’ throughout the night.
Epica as a whole unit are a solid live act and they blew us away last time and tonight they were determined to steal our breaths with an even more intense show. Last time the band seemed unsure about response and turn outs from what they felt was an unknown territory. Tonight they performed with extreme confidence, like returning heroes knowing full well given their last experience they are well loved in the UK.
I always love how symphonic bands show due respect to their keyboard players and assemble the stage so they aren’t shoved away at the back or squeezed into a corner in the dark– something I wish other genre’s would take heed of. So Keyboardist Coen Janssen was very much part of the visually stunning and energetic performance put on by his band mates. Betwixt the light show and the band swaggering around the stage it was an extremely enjoyable visual show, although I could have done without the strobe lights.
Simone’s vocal performance was strikingly impressive and how she maintains this level of quality up night after night is truly amazing. Within the Symphonic metal genre, Simone definitely stands head and shoulders above all others with the quality of her voice. She is so beautiful too and is a captivating front woman with a strong stage presence, a warm smile and an entertaining energy. I found myself totally immersed in her stage act throughout the evening and mesmerised by every gesture, smile and of course those damn ‘Strawberry Swirls’!
Simone and Guitarist Mark Jansen are always encouraging the audience to get involved with chants and clapping, it really does add to a great atmosphere as the fans embrace the music, something some bands sorely neglect. Don’t get me wrong, crowd participation can be a bit cheesy and old hat, but getting your fans into the flow and life of the gig should be paramount!
Epica actually lifted their set list from all their albums and wasn’t as heavy on new material from their latest album ‘Requiem for The Indifferent’ as I had presumed which was nice. We heard ‘Unleashed’, ‘Serenade of Self Destruction’, Monopoly Of Truth’, ‘Sensorium’, ‘Martyr Of the Freeworld’ and ‘Cry For The Moon’.
They played a slightly different version of old classic ‘The Phantom Agony’ which had a dance beat thrown into the chorus which induced a lot of pogo-ing and head banging from the younger members of the crowd. I think my favourite moment of the night though was oldie but goodie ‘Quietus’, Simone sings like an angel totally enthralling!
As the band leave briefly for the encore the crowd never stops demanding their return until keyboardist Coen returns who speaks briefly to us thanking us for turning out and mentions the variation in the ages visible in the crowd, stating their was more older people in the crowd than they are used to before stating the party still wasn’t over! I’m not sure if this was an indication of the Robin audience or the UK in general cause in my experience symphonic metal is far more popular with middle aged people than it is with students, so it was not a surprise to me. It is kudos to the Robin though if the band felt the age mix was more varied here, I know many people avoid ‘student’ favourite venues as they feel intimidated and unwelcome at those places, so it’s a big thumbs up to the robin for running and encouraging a friendly and above all an all inclusive venue in more ways than one! A lot of venues should take a leaf out of the Robins book!
So for the encore we got a fantastic rendition of ‘Storm The Sorrow’ and ‘Consign To Oblivion’. It was great to hear Simone with a huge smile on her face say that of all the previous dates we were bar far the best crowd they had played too in the UK. I know this sort of banter is said at most gigs but when it comes to shows in the West Midlands and more so specifically in the Black Country, these statements tend to be truth – FACT! We’re just that fooking awesome. Seriously you ask around.
Epica are such an entertaining band that it should be made compulsory to go and see them live, I tell you now I’ll NEVER miss the band when they hit the Black Country again! In fact they’ll have trouble keeping me away!