Arena - Le Divan Du Monde, Paris, 24.4.2015 (concert review)


Arena- ticket 24-4-2015 (6) (800x320).jpg



 Arena first came to my attention around the time they released their first or second album. But having read an article that compared them strongly to another band, I feared they might sound derivative, and therefore didn’t investigate any further. Then, a few years later, I stumbled upon the “Immortal ?” album, and decided to give it a shot.

 Wise decision.

 This band clearly had its own identity. Unmistakably neo-prog, but with some very atmospheric touches, and a bold sound, sometimes even verging on metal. A powerful blend for a very diverse and powerful album.

 From then on, I viewed Arena as a force to be reckoned with. And I gradually purchased more of their albums. I also toyed with the idea of seeing them live, but never got around to doing it. However, as I added more of their records to my collection, I told myself I really should see them next time they played. And as it turns out, this time around, they were celebrating their twentieth anniversary.

 So I got myself a ticket.

 And boy am I glad I did.


 To say the band were in top form would be like entering a contest for “understatement of the year”. In other words, they were simply magnificent.

 For starters, the choice of songs was very well thought out, deftly blending older tunes with the more recent ones. “The demon strikes”, “Rapture”, “Double vision”, “Crack in the ice”, “How did it come to this ?”, “The unquiet sky”, "Salamander", “(Don’t forget to) Breathe”, “Traveller beware”,  “The tinder box”… they even interspersed some nice instrumental bits in there, creating a rich and varied flow. I didn’t get to hear all my personal favorites, but this was to be expected. Arena now have so many tunes to pick from, it’s obvious that choices had to be made. They did, however, leave out the “Pepper’s Ghost” album. But, once again, the setlist was very well conceived, and the succession of songs was excellent from start to finish.


 Ah, excellent… also a good word to describe the performance itself. Stage presence was constant, with energetic interaction between the band-members. And the musicianship was nothing short of exemplary. Mick pointer and Kylan Amos provided an impeccably steady foundation, Clive Nolan’s keyboard orchestrations were lush and enchanting as ever, John Mitchell’s guitar work soared with power and precision, and as far as Paul Manzi was concerned… I mean wow, what a voice !  All the right notes were there, carried with strength and expressiveness. And contrary to some of the first videos I saw of him, he is now in full frontman mode, pacing boldly across the stage, acting out each song with charisma and aplomb.


 From a musical point of view, the absolute tour-de-force was “Moviedrome”. One of my favorite Arena songs, and there they were, playing it right before me. Pure magic. I mean, they played the whole thing !  All twenty minutes of it !  Simply amazing. And testament to how serious this band is about displaying its craft in the best possible manner.

 I was also very pleased that they performed “The hanging tree”, of which they gave a beautiful rendition.


 A few more songs, and Arena closed their one hour and forty minute set with “Solomon”. But the audience cheered on, and the band returned for two more numbers. The last of which was a rock version of “The cry” (with an occasional reggae feel), during which audience participation was led by Paul, who got half the fans to sing “help”, and the other half to sing “me”. The band actually stopped playing during this, and John humorously lay down, pretending to rest while waiting for the music to resume. Yup, like I said, stage presence was constant.


 OK... I’ve had nothing but good things to say so far. Any disappointment anywhere ?  Well… one little gripe, but not regarding the band itself. I understand gigs require a certain volume, but I personally found this one to be a tad too loud. Not that it became unbearable. It’s just that some of the subtleties in the music wound up muffled, notably in Clive’s playing. Given the small size of the venue, I didn’t feel it was necessary to push the P.A. that hard.


 But other than that, what can I say ?  This was basically everything a prog concert should be. I’ve used the word “exemplary” earlier in my article, and I’ll happily use it again. After all these years, Arena are still a force to be reckoned with. Not only am I glad I finally got to see them live, but I definitely hope to see them again.


 Best regards to all.





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