Live Reviews

IQ – Forty+ Years Of Prog Nonsense… The Met, Bury: Live Review

IQ – The Met, Bury – 13/14th January 2023


Forty years of prog nonsense – well, IQ42 is the actual count, but it’s time to don the IQ20 vintage T-shirt and head down to The Met for two nights of prog nonsense (the slogan has become their signature) and what singer Pete Nicholls self-deprecatingly and humbly calls “top quality showbiz entertainment.”

The double-header sees night #1 sold out and with the promise that night #2 is pretty much a different set, there’s enough to tempt many out for both shows. Not surprising as IQ and The Met have some history – “350 times” is the guess from Pete at the number of shows. A bit optimistic but in all honesty it’s been a home from home since the mid Nineties, having premiered their Subterranea production there (the famous ‘world tour of Bury) and having been almost regular early-year visitors since.

And so with just a little technical hitch that attempts to throw a spanner in the works of the homecoming, we’re underway with the guitar picked into that heralds Widow’s Peak

A set that visited the earlier years with Subterranea and a Nostalgia/Falling Apart At The Seams that saw the first of several opportunities for the instrumental quartet to show their chops and demonstrate what a formidable unit they’ve become over the decades. With three quarters – Mike Holmes, Tim Esau and Paul Cook being from the original line up then you can understand the musical empathy. Bathed in red light, not for the first time Holmes and Esau venture centre stage to lead the prog rock out while (also not for the first time) the Holmes guitar lines cut through and justify why he’s up there with the Rotherys, the Hacketts and the Gilmours of the prog guitar hierarchy. “Mr Michael Holmes,” salutes Pete Nicholls of the pal he first met back in 1976 where the road to IQ began – “be careful of who you meet at Genesis concerts” his tongue-in-cheek warning.

This one’s called ‘Curse That Mic/Mike Stand'”

Having reconnected on familiar ground, we come right up to date with the first fo a couple of tracks from the most recent album Resistance. One that might not have become as embedded into the consciousness as yet; Stay Down (or should it be Stay Dahhnn as Pete indulges in the mock Ray Winstone accent – not for the first time of the night) and Shallow Bay that comes later both highlight contemporary IQ while not straying too far from the past. Opening with the Nicholls/Neil Durant piano/vocal, it soon shifts into a trademark IQ stomp with Neil and Cookie at the drums concentrating furiously under their cans. Both songs are retained for the second night and a second viewing/hearing of the latter offers up the chance to pay attention and appreciate the Holmes solo part.

The twenty-plus minutes of High Waters/The Narrow Margin sees a genuine prog rock epic brought to the table with the Subterranea symbol adorning the backdrop screens. Camera phones are out in force as Mike and Tim come centre stage for a duet (or duel) as the excitement of the instrumental finale comes to a thundering climax. It’s the first big epic of the evening – possibly the highlight (of the weekend?) A quick look at the watch and it’s 21:12 – quite apt! By contrast, The Thousand Days comes as a bit of light relief before the instrumentalists are in the spotlight again for Leap Of Faith and a chance to mention the bass pedal depth charges coming from the feet of Tim Esau. Wondering whether or not they’ll do the segue into Came Down…not tonight; instead a well-timed sudden ending.

An always welcome The Wake gives way to the only other song retained for both nights. The stark and haunting opening of The Road Of Bones (“I almost hate myself… Almost…But not quite”) is chilling with Pete in dark glasses and white gloves and in stark contrast to the drama and opulence that unfolds. Coupled with Further Away – the highlight (?) of the fan favoured album Ever and a song that in the distant and dim past was avoided for a while – we sign off with two undeniable classics. The latter sees Neil flying through the keyboard solo atop a thundering rhythm before providing the texture for Mike to wring out yet another of his so melodic solo parts. The sinister bed is passed and after twelve minutes the hairs and goosebumps are rising, prompted by that guitar passage and the “Go wherever you can be, And live for the day” lyric ringing true and reminding us to Carpe Diem. Fifteen minutes of magical pure prog nonsense and a thought that there’s surely a gap in the market for a Pete Nicholls/IQ lyric book (with some of his illustrations like he used to do in the early days).

No Love Lost is the first of two encore songs; a Kashmir stomp and futile attempts to get Mike Holmes to take a lead vocal is a little more light-hearted than the intense Failsafe that brings down the curtain on the first of two nights that might well be hard to top. We shall see.

Prog fans are gluttons for punishment so the opportunity to indulge in another IQ two-night stand at The Met isn’t in doubt. It’s Saturday night and the half-seats/half-standing arrangement of Friday night sees the seats pushed back to provide just a couple fo rows and allow the standing area to expand. Not great for poor FOH sound man, the legend that is Rob Aubrey, whose view, despite his own riser, is limited by the omnipresent gig attendee – the ‘tall guy who stands in front of you’. However, it’s not uncomfortable and those in attendance witnessed a second set which has many declaring on social media that it’s up there in the top IQ gigs they’ve seen. Praise indeed and indeed, there are moments when the needle on the sublime-ometer nudges into the red.

Once again, the format sees Outer Limits and The Darkest Hour provide a pairing that can’t fail to inspire and give a hint that we’re about to witness another couple of hours of classic music from the band that’s been an ever-present and promises to march on to the half-century.

The former, another helping from The Wake album that seems particularly in favour over the weekend (six ‘hits’ no less) scuttles along busily with some Gerry Anderson sounds emerging from Professor Durant’s keyboard of astonishing sounds before a greeting and. pairing with another classic set opener in The Darkest Hour. Once again, we’re seduced by two killer cuts complete with an unnerving sense of melody.

A twenty-minute shot of adrenalin before another Stay Dahhnn and the first surprise of sorts of the night. We’ve been promised a shuffle in the setlist that’s going to showcase the strength in depth of the catalogue – a bit like Pep does with his squad rotation – and it sees the Dark Christmas Suite coming as a late-’22 or early-’23 greeting. Pete’s in costume again as a sinister presence of Christmases beyond, as twenty minutes of Christmas songs and carols are given an IQ soundtrack over twenty minutes. Not something you see (or hear) every day although Ten Million Demons – a track found hidden amongst the depths of The Road Of Bones album – is a more regular visitor to the IQ set. You can even see it performed in Santa hats on the Road Of Bones live recording so it ‘fits’ and it’s a great piece of fun! Backed with some suitably marching video clips, it sees IQ meet Simple Minds’ Waterfront via The Glitter Band.

Latest album Resistance is highlighted again with a run that sees Shallow Bay complemented by the heavy fiery drama of A Missile and The Road Of Bones’ closing Until The End that with its graveyard keyboard textures, is an unsettling partner to that album’s title track. They provide the ‘new vs old’ balance where a visit to The Magic Roundabout and the magnificent Headlong remind us – again- of the esteem in which The Wake album is held. We’re reminded of how the title of the latter only appeared right at the wire and how strange how it turned out to be one of their most popular songs. A personal highlight, I recall it being played in their early visits to The Met in the mid-nineties and it’s the icing of the cake. There’s the simple matter of Guiding Light that’s the only visit o The Seventh House this weekend. The opening part beautifully played sung by Pete and Neil before the quartet, each making their own telling contribution as well as driving relentlessly as a unit, power mightily through five minutes of toweringly intense and uplifting prog.

Of course, the demands are for more and there’s time for just one more ‘waffer theen’ mint as we head waaay back for what many of us will have first heard on a cassette tape with It All Stops Here. It’s as bouncy and played with as much verve as though it were 1981/2/3 before the request that they’ll do one more “if you all sing along.” The middle section of The Last Human Gateway is dusted off majestically. It’s music that Pete once called “vintage IQ from the last century” and must hold a special place in the heart of those who’ve been on that forty-plus year journey and encapsulates what IQ is all about. Beautifully played and sung (again) and topped with the uplift of a cathedral organ richness and a solo that Mike Holmes pulls back from all those years ago.

In time, yes, they will fly again.

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