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ConcertsNEARfest 2004: Pallas

Posted on Wednesday, July 21 2004 @ 23:20:58 CDT by Duncan Glenday
Concert Reviews The stage was dark, and the audience was impatient. Then we heard the lapping of waves, and soft spacey overtones which gave way to haunting choral sounds of a Mellotron. That slowly built up while the guys walked out, and hit those first power chords. The Mellotron-like chorals built up to a mini crescendo and the full rock set broke into the lilting rhythm of the opening strains of 'The Cross And The Crucible'.

That wonderful introduction to Pallas's set may be a bit clichéd and you've probably seen something like it in a dozen live shows, but there's no questioning its effectiveness. The goosebumps went up and I nestled back in my seat expecting the surprise performance of the weekend.
Pallas was one of the pioneers of the British revival of progressive rock in the early '80s and was tagged with the dreaded 'neo' label which has received an undeservedly bad rap. Their music was always heavier than contemporaries Marillion, IQ, and Jadis, and today you'll find The Cross And The Crucible and Beat The Drum in the in Tower records' metal section. But because of the 'neo' tag, a large number of NEARfesters had been openly critical of Pallas's inclusion in the weekend's lineup and promised to stay away. So my fear was that my fellow Scotsmen would be playing an empty theater. The setlist was similar to the recent live CD The Blinding Darkness, and notwithstanding the stayaway threats, the theater was almost full and the band earned a very enthusiastic reception.
Whether you love their music or not, one of the hallmarks of the better neo bands is that they always deliver excellent live performances. And in this respect, Pallas came up short. Their music is good and it was well played, but Pallas is used to headlining to a crowd of dedicated enthusiasts who have paid money and made the trip especially to see them. Their audience typically knows the songs and sings along with some of the anthemic chorus lines. Alan Reed's efforts to whip the NEARfest crowd into the same fervor and his Gabriel-esque stage antics flew like a lead balloon. Real proggies don't sing along – our music appreciation occurs at a more cerebral level. With years of professional experience under his belt Reed quickly understood this and made appropriate adjustments, but you couldn't help feeling that the wind had been spilled from Pallas's sails and the rest of the performance seemed a little flat. I got the impression that they consolidated their popularity with those people who already knew their music, but probably didn't win many new fans.
My friend and SoT co-writer Grant was impressed by the wonderful Mellotron-like samples on Ronnie Brown's synthesizer, and we singled him out afterward for some keyboard-techie-talk. Long story short, Pallas made samples of their own 'Trons and loaded their synthesizers themselves, and now have what Grant describes as a unique gothic tone to their sound which contributes the rich, dark tones to so many of their songs.
I expected Pallas to deliver a 110% performance, and felt I got 90%. But hey, 90% is still an 'A', isn't it?

Duncan Glenday

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