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Mean Fiddler , London, 13 October 2005

Whilst queuing outside the Mean Fiddler waiting to get in lots of pale faced, black clad youths were joining the queue and when I told them this was the queue for a prog rock gig you should have seen them run! Their faces went even paler… They were in fact wanting to see current US metal giants Disturbed playing the bigger Astoria next door.

A decent sized crowd to see Arena celebrate their 10th anniversary and it was a real treat as the band played for just under two and a half hours. A short film started the set featuring the bands in various set piece comic poses before it was off into ‘Bedlam Fayre’ from the excellent new album ‘Pepper’s Ghost’.

Vocalist Rob Sowden wore a strange blond wig for much of the earlier set with a large top hat – I assume it was to match the new album cover but he didn’t half look daft!

The set had a good mix of old and new tunes and to quote keyboard wizard Clive Nolan ‘songs in the middle’. Highlights included ‘Painted Man’, ‘Witch Hunt’, the superb keyboard led instrumental ‘Riding The Tide’, ‘Medusa’ and ‘Smoke & Mirrors’.

For me the thing I love most about this particular band is that they take classic prog but add a healthy dose of metal guitar riffs and even modern rock touches. Do not be scared off by the progressive tag as progressive just means the music moves on each time, something Arena have certainly achieved these past ten years.

There was a sense of fun in the band as well with drummer Mick Pointer doing a mercifully brief flute solo and the band were bouncing up and down on the more rockier numbers. Three encores saw a superb run through ‘Solomon’ and the set ended with the classic ‘Jericho’. This tune is a classic slow burner from it’s gentle vocal intro right up top the sing-a-long chorus at the end.

A superb gig and if you’ve yet to sample the delights of Arena I suggest you do so PDQ. Remember prog is not a dirty word!

Review: Jason Ritchie

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