By Rachel Mann
Birmingham’s come a long way since the days when it was all spaghetti junctions and concrete waste. Brindleyplace is the Venice of the Midlands and the Bullring outdoes Milan. Some things never change, though. Give brummies a chance to go to a quality prog gig and they’ll turn out in force. And if it’s home-town ‘babs’ like IO Earth, you’re on for a sell-out.
It’s no surprise, then, that the Crescent Theatre is abuzz for IO Earth’s homecoming parade. As mainman Dave Cureton says, “It’s a bit posher than the Robin 2, aynn’t it?” And it’s not just locals who’ve packed out a theatre more used to Shakespeare than prog. Fans have flown in from the States, Holland, Germany, Poland and even… Walsall. Probably.
It’s a special night in more ways than one. IO Earth pride themselves on fostering a sense of family among their fans – sometimes it seems everyone’s on first-name terms – and this one-off gig is a chance for ‘family’ to celebrate the new album New World. Cureton and co have laid on a royal banquet for us all – not only packing out a classy venue, but supplementing the seven-piece band with a string and horn section, the Orchestra of Sound & Emotion.
On a night when half of Europe has it’s eyes on the Eurovision campfest in Vienna, IO Earth show the Euro-pap kids how to really put on an event. Linda Odinsen has brought new dimension to the IOs since joining in 2013 and the interplay between her precise, Nordic voice and the string-rich arrangements on songs such as Drifting is stunning. To say that live mainstays The Creation and Live Your Life parts 1 and 2 are given added oomph in a 14-piece arragement is an understatement. Indeed, one of the challenges for the band will be to sound this full again without horns and strings. Harmonix is an understandable crowd-pleaser – Cureton’s guitar pyrotechnics are quite starteling – but the addition of an orchestra makes the sound truly expansive.
New albums can take a while to bed in. Not so New World. As an album launch, this gig’s a doozy. From the atmospheric Morning to the majestic Fade To Grey and the metalled-up Colours, New World is a showcase for IO Earth’s fierce brew of rock, symphonics and broodiness. All Colours missed was some Cookie Monster growls. Something for Odinsen to work on?
This is a night for epic efforts. band co-founder Adam Gough had been ill in hospital the week before this gig but, as Cureton flags up, there was no way he was going to miss this. There was no way any of us were.
By Rachel Mann