I witnessed Motorpsycho deliver an awe-inspiring concert only two days before, but they would be quickly forgotten as Crippled Black Phoenix burned through one of the best concerts I’d ever seen. The British band, led by Justin Greaves (formerly of Electric Wizard and Iron Monkey), has become one of the premier European prog rock bands today. Their recent record (Mankind) The Crafty Ape is the perfect fusion of Pink Floyd‘s epic scope and Led Zeppelin‘s hard-hitting groove.
Their setup on stage, with militant anarchist banners behind the drum kit reminded me of British sci-fi from the eighties; near-future visions of a totalitarian society. That fit well with the band’s aestethic, though. They’ve always been faithful to the underground and throughout the evening they reminded us of this with songs that remain strongly anti-establishment. OWS, indeed.
The band entered the small stage to the sampled sound of a girl choir. The seven-man strong band quickly shed this angelic feel as they launched into the robotic intro from their latest record; “Nothing (We Are)”. They let of a strong sense of communal spirit, even though Justin Greaves is the band’s sole remaining founding member. The band were in a good mood, and mocked their own petty errors with ease; a faulty pedal and mic stand turned into “we bring demons to the proceedings”, while the Journey song “Of A Lifetime” was introduced as a song “from back when they still were a good band”. Their mix of progressive/post rock, the anti-establishment topics and their outgoing mood gave me a feeling of seeing the good-humoured little brother of Godspeed You(!) Black Emperor and other bands from the Constellation roster.
What blew me away was the crystal-clear-yet-heavier-than-thou sound. This blended with great mood lighting to set the stage for the band as they continued their run through (Mankind) The Crafty Ape with “The Heart Of Every Country” and “Get Down And Live With It”. Their darkened muscle rock enveloped the crowd in a tight grip and didn’t let go until over two hours later. The songs were securely fastened by the solid rhythm section which made it possible for Justin Greaves to let the Karl Dematas guitar shine. This night he was one of the definite highlights with dazzling fretwork and blistering solos that connected the band’s love for seventies progressive rock with more traditional hard rock and heavy metal.
But Crippled Black Phoenix is more than loud guitars; the band’s primary asset is atmosphere. It doesn’t matter if they rock like Deep Purple in ’72, or have a quiet, bluesy session that just as easily could have happened in a dark club in Birmingham in ’69—it’s easy to be transported back in time. The band shares vocal duties, but most songs are led by singer Joe Volk, who looks like a member of Scottish rock band Franz Ferdinand with a hoarse voice reminiscent of WASP‘s Blackie Lawless. Demata and Greaves’ fitting backing vocals give a little extra punch, while pianist Miriam Wolf adds sleek dimension. As their brilliant set drew to an end, Crippled Black Phoenix took it up a notch and launched into the transcendental duo of “Rise Up And Fight” and “Burnt Reynolds”, blazing a swathe of smiles as far as the eye could see, before their inevitable rebirth through ash.