Celebrating their 40th Anniversary, classic prog act Renaissance regrouped once again for a short tour of the East Coast, billed as 'Renaissance 2009'. The line-up of singer Annie Haslam, guitarist Michael Dunford, keyboard players Rave Tesar & Tom Brislin, bassist David J. Keyes, and drummer Frank Pagano made the sixth stop of the nine date tour at The Egg in Albany, New York. The Egg is an odd looking construction that sits on top of Empire State Plaza in Albany (New York's state capital), but actually goes down six stories deep. Housed below the 'egg shaped structure' on the surface lies the 450-seat Lewis A. Swyer Theater, a quaint, cozy little venue where Renaissance 2009 completely took over on October 13th. Sea of Tranquility Publisher Pete Pardo was there and brings this full concert report.
Though I've been an avid follower of the 'classical-meets-rock' sounds of Renaissance for many years, I've never had the opportunity to see them in concert. The classic line-up of the band splintered in the early 80's, and though various configurations seemed to come and go, this was to be my first chance to catch them. Though only Annie and Michael remain from the classic line-up, they've gotten themselves a dynamite group of musicians to flesh out the current incarnation of Renaissance. Tesar and Keyes both played in the last version of Renaissance, as well as the Annie Haslam Band, while Brislin has spent brief time in Yes, Camel, Meat Loaf, and Debbie Harry, and Pagano has played with Bruce Springsteen, Smashing Pumpkins, Bette Midler, and Barry Manilow.
After a short set from acoustic guitar player/singer/songwriter Jann Klose ( a very talented musician with a real good voice and some nice melodic folks songs), Renaissance walked out to a standing ovation from the sold out crowd and tore into the mostly instrumental "Prologue" from the album of the same name, Haslam's soaring vocalizations floating over the symphonic sounds from the rest of the band. The lovely, dreamy pop song "Carpet of the Sun" folllowed, Annie showing that her voice still has that powerful, rich, lovely quality that it did 30+ years ago, and the keyboard duo of Tesar and Brislin worked wonders here, with Rave laying down the piano parts and Tom adding the synthesized orchestrations. The next two numbers, "Midas Man" and "Running Hard", were brilliant, Dunford's lush accoustic guitar accompaniment providing the perfect backdrop to sinewy bass lines from Keyes and Haslam's heavenly vocals. In fact, after the latter song ended and another standing ovation ensued from the crowd, Annie stated to everyone that it might have been the best they had ever played that song. Next, and also from the album Turn of the Cards, came the mysterious "Black Flame", followed by the only hit single for the band "Northern Lights". The stunning "Ocean Gypsy" followed, always a favorite amongst loyal followers of the band, and this version had the same dreamy quality that we all remembered. For many, the only real surprise in this set list came in the form of "Things I Don't Understand", a lengthy piece that doesn't always come up as one of their more memorable songs, but it's a great one, and the band didn't disappoint here, giving this dramatic and adventurous piece a real workout. The final two numbers were my personal highlights of the night, the epic "Mother Russia" and "Ashes Are Burning". "Mother Russia" is a prime example of how this band combines dramatic, classical orchestrations with symphonic progressive rock, Annie's vocals soaring to the heavens while majestic piano, orchestral synths, nimble drum beats, lush guitar, and powerful lead bass lines make up the sumptuous sounds. Encore "Ashes Are Burning" was worth the price of admission alone, complete with solos from Keyes, Tesar, and Brislin, and Haslam closing out the momentous song with her stunning vocals.
Apart from a brief moment where Annie left the stage to speak to management about someone who she thought was recording the show (it was proved he wasn't), this set went off without a hitch. The sound was wonderful, all the musicians were spot on, and Annie's voice was remarkable. Hopefully this won't be a one-off tour, and the band decide to play some more shows in 2010 and possibly record some new material. Just a splendid performance from one of the classiests acts in rock history.
Carpet of the Sun
Things I Don't Understand
Ashes are Burning