VUUR & Exploring Birdsong – FAC251
Two new and exciting progressive acts illuminate Factory
Words: Phil Weller
In a week where Devin Townsend announced his decision to disband the Devin Townsend Project to work on a number of solo works, the Canadian’s siren songstress of choice, Anneke van Giersbergen arrives on our shores with her suitably incendiary new band, Vuur. She knows the new name and band’s refined prog metal sound, which bares more similarities to Devin’s work than her own in The Gentle Storm and The Gathering, will mean working from the ground up again but tonight she is greeted by a healthy and warming crowd in FAC251 as they roll out their mission statement. Devin may be stepping away from full throttle prog metal for the time being, but here Vuur showed that his absence rips open a void which they are more than ready to fill.
With the venue beginning to fill and prickle with energy and anticipation, Liverpool’s Exploring Birdsong cast a gorgeous silence upon the crowd. Engulfed and immersed within the band’s leftfield but ultimately refreshing and innovative instrumentation – two pianos, bass, drums, three female singers and one male voice – every time a song finished the place went deadly quiet. There was nothing awkward here; the crowd were simply spellbound. From the cascading melodies and devil’s tale lyrics of The River, which sounds like a dexterous blend of Kate Bush and The Deer Hunter to djent inspired, piano-led freak outs and choruses draped in a pop aesthetic that dares to think outside the box, they use their difference, their deviance from the norm of guitar-centric, heavy bands as their charm offence. As forthcoming single Downpour concludes their set, there is no doubting there are plenty in the place with hearts fluttering.
The first thing that grabs you as VUUR take to the stage – named after the Dutch word for fire and visually and sonically a very pleasing thing – is their confidence. Smiles and confidence ooze a warmth that illuminates and radiates across the already sweaty venue and they march into the muscular, crunching Time. All eyes cast upon Anekke and her fiery red hair as she walks on stage with a Gibson SG slung around her waist and instantly her voice sounds gigantean and grandiose. My Champion is a tight, juxtaposing track that flits between jagged, time signature shifting riffs and a huge, anthemic chorus while On Most Surfaces, from the band’s The Gathering Days gives the long time followers something to savour.
Musically, whilst their set is water tight and their energy and genuine pleasure to be here infects the crowd, their use of digital amp modelling technology straight through the PA creates as many issues as it solves. It’s a practical bit of kit, you get a million different crystal clear and perfectly crafted tones at your fignertips – or footsteps, to be exact – and you don’t need to cart a cab across Europe with you, the lack of cab means you loose some of that ballsy earthiness that makes live music so bone-rattlingly fun. The tones were superb, the mix deftly balanced and the performances were slick and belying of their relative newness, but some of that rawness is lost in the process.
An acoustic interlude then sees Anneke dedicate Audioslave’s Like A Stone to Chris Cornell and her sumptuous range and gracious approach makes it a tear jerking tribute to a musician lost too soon.
The ominous and dark Strange Machines (The Gathering) and the joyous pop metal of Fallout (Devin Townsend Project) make for a wonderful contrast late on. The gentle beginnings and triumphant finale of Reunite then wraps up a night of excellent music and sizzling talent. Anneke stays around long after the show to meet with fans, to sign merch and pose for photos and VUUR will be, in the greater scheme of things, very much be doing the same. Don’t expect them to disappear anytime soon.