More bands should take the same “back to basics” approach that DragonForce are applying to the UK leg of the Maximum Overload world tour. Rather than taking in the usual 5 shows in the same 5 major cities, this time around the sextet are taking in 20 smaller venues in 20 towns that don’t get to see many non-local bands.
And the people of Colchester, saved the £30 fare and hour journey to London to take in a show, have responded enthusiastically. The Arts Centre, a converted church that is actually a rather fine venue, is absolutely rammed, and the opening band aren’t even on.
Neonfly, a badly named band who thus far have flown under the radar, take to the stage and are greeted enthusiastically and respond as if they’ve just strolled out as a festival headliner. And it’s lapped up as they run through a selection of AOR influenced widdly Power Metal that veers between Sonata Arctica and UFO. They have all the poses (including some classic Priest choreography), all the solos and in Willy Norton, all the voice with his excellent Michael Kiske meets Tony Martin delivery, and a stage patter that’s part children’s entertainer and part Danny Bowes on happy pills. It’s 1988 again, and no one is complaining as single ‘Gift To Remember’ is met by a healthy number of hands in the air to its rocking riff and massive chorus. While closer ‘Morning Star’ may be a slightly disappointing end to a very enjoyable set, no damage is done as Neonfly have made a lot of new friends tonight, as songs aired from their upcoming new album Strangers In Paradise (Inner Wound) touch on Avantasia. And they have a guitarist called Fred Thunder.
DragonForce have quite the mixed live reputation, but since the arrival of vocalist Marc Hudson they seem to be a different beast these days. Hudson’s first album with the band, The Power Within (Essential/Roadrunner) was their best since debut Valley Of The Damned (Noise/Sanctuary) and the strength and reputation of their live show has grown since his arrival. Heading out on the road with a new album, Maximum Overload (earMUSIC), that picks up where Power… left off, could they continue the upward live curve?
Absolutely. In spades. From the rapid fire power metal, to the guitar duelling of Sam Totman and Hermann Li, who both make the fastest and most complex of guitar techniques seem effortless, to bassist Frédéric Leclercq’s facial comedy show and underpinning rumble and Hudson’s near flawless vocal performance, the ‘Force are on it.
Everything about DragonForce on this tour elicits grins and a feeling of joy, and it’s clear this comes from the stage, aided by Totman’s understated self-deprecation and ongoing banter with Leclercq, the two of them mocking Li, each other, the lyrics (the sword motions in ‘Black Winter Night’ were childishly brilliant), the crowd and themselves throughout while still delivering. It’s great to see. Li, on the other hand, is pulling every Guitar-God shape, including pick-sliding with his tongue, while in between Hudson, the bastard love-child of Chris Jericho and Sebastian Bach, has learnt the master of ceremonies role, padding and filling well in the longer than usual gaps between songs caused by technical issues to Vadim Pruzhanov’s keytar.
Highlights are hard to choose, but a mid-set ‘Seasons’ goes down a storm, a thrashy ‘The Game’ opens up a pit, and ‘Three Hammers’ is a colossal slice of One Direction meets ManOweeN, before all too soon it’s time for the bands best song, ‘Cry Thunder’ which concludes the set proper to rapturous cheers.
Immediate a holler rises for an encore, and the band oblige, camping through their dreadful version of ‘Ring of Fire’, before a vibrant ‘Through The Fire And Flames’ (I’m sure some guy near me was actual air Guitar Hero-ing) and a triumphant ‘Valley Of The Damned’ wrap things up to send a happy crowd spilling out, talking nearly as quickly as the flurrying fingers of Totman and Li about how much they enjoyed the show.
This is what a Power Metal gig should be about, a packed crowd singing along to hymns of cheese and metal with a band turning in a great performance, all creating a symbiotic exuberance. Simply great fun.
And I was sober…
DragonForce Set list
Fury Of The Storm
Black Winter Night
Symphony Of The Night
Heroes Of Our Time
Ring Of Fire
Through The Fire And The Flames
Valley Of The Damned