Renaissance @ Concert Hall for the NY Society of Ethical Culture (10/9/2009)

Logo - Renaissance

Artist: Renaissance
Venue: Concert Hall for the New York Society of Ethical Culture (New York, NY)
Opener: Jann Klose
Date: 10/9/2009
Label: Independent Artist

Celebrating the bands 40th anniversary, Annie Haslam, & Michael Dunford from the classic lineup of Renaissance would embark on a tour to bring their much loved Progressive Art Rock music to the masses. They would be joined by four other talented musicians and hit nine different venues along the East Coast to the delight of many. The show in New York City would be held at The Concert Hall, and feature singer/songwriter Jann Klose as their sole opening act. I’ve long appreciated the music of Renaissance and sadly was never able to catch them when they were at their zenith, so the chance to enjoy them in an intimate venue setting that was also new to me was one of those no-brainer decisions to make. I arrived early enough to see Jann whom I had heard about a number of times as well but never saw and doing so allowed me to better scope out this venue and mentally compare it to some of the others that I have seen concerts in. It was sure to be an evening of wonderful memories based on the sold out crowd and anticipation of hearing the music of Renaissance live after so many years.

Jann Klose: Hailing from the Bronx, the New York native was armed with only a guitar and I his wonderful voice and he really seemed to impress the crowd who was still filtering in as he began. I don’t know too much about him, but was aware that his newest release was called “Reverie”. If you like the singing guitarist songwriter kind of stuff then you should easily enjoy what he was doing as it appeared to be very accessible. He does have a very clear and powerful voice which I commend him for and perhaps in the future I will get to see a longer and more comprehensive set of his material. His website has a lot of samples of what he is all about for those who want to dig a little deeper into his sound and while those samples have a full accompaniment on them, tonight he would perform solo with only the guitar to assist him. I had to say he did good enough to pique my curiosity but he finished the set in about 25 minutes and now it was time for Renaissance.

Renaissance: I have to give most of the credit to my Mother for turning me on to the music of Renaissance and based on her owning albums like “Turn Of The Cards”, “Scheherazade & Other Stories” and “Ashes Are Burning”, I was able to absorb the bands music at a very young age and grow to appreciate its wonderful depth and level of creativity. Around this point in musical history the band was regularly heard on FM radio stations but it was the vinyl that did it for me. Of course I would never get to see them perform live and this made sense based on the band being at their biggest when I was nowhere near the age to attend concerts. The times have changed since then and folks bring their young ones into shows all the time these days but it was not as common a practice in the early seventies at least to my knowledge. Annie’s voice is the one I grew up on, and even though she was not the bands original singer, it was her melodies that became synonymous with the bands identity and together with Michael Dunford; they formed the nucleus of the “classic roster”. They would of course be the only members from this classic line on the stage tonight but together with Rave Tesar (keyboards), David J. Keyes (bass), Tom Brislin (keyboards) and Frank Pagano (drums) the majesty of the Renaissance music was in very good hands. Historically speaking, both Rave and David had worked together with Annie in a later version of Renaissance so they would be the most adept at those tunes while the skills of Tom and Frank were on point based on their own work with bands like Springsteen, Meat Loaf, Smashing Pumpkins, Camel and a host of other diverse acts. Of course I never expected the musicians playing tonight to be anything less than incredible.

The band all walked on the stage together to rousing applause and appreciation as they delivered “Prologue” which led us into “Carpet Of The Sun”. The audience was all smiles with this one time radio staple and many sang along with the chorus but not loud enough to take away from anyone else’s enjoyment of the bands execution of it. Annie sounded fantastic and it was amazing to know that she is now 62 years of age and still hitting the powerful high notes. If you closed your eyes she would take you back in time and though she sometimes fiddled with the volume on her in ear monitor device she seldom seemed to have an issue with the soaring notes that she was putting out there. She would introduce “Midas Man” as one of her favorites and then it was time to let Rave take over as “Running Hard” was delivered to perfection. He seemed to be handling most of the piano duties while Tom did the synths and at the end of the day I felt that all of them were doing John Tout a proper respect in just how well they did songs that he first gave us. “Black Flame” was always one of my favorites so I was glad to find it in the set, and of course I expected this to be the case even if they had bypassed some other tunes of note. We were at song number five and I had read that only ten tunes were being performed which was a little bit of a shame, even if many Renaissance numbers are lengthy and very involved.

Dunford spoke a little and told the audience that after returning home from a lengthy American tour that was organized by John Scher; that they had found a hit single in “Northern Lights”. This was never one of my own preferences in their catalog but it sure did help the band reach more people so I gave them credit for it. It was probably also the shortest tune of the evening. I found it funny when I learned that the famous concert promoter Scher was actually sitting near me, but was gone by the time that I had discovered this information. I would have liked to shake hands with the man whose name is on more of my ticket stubs than I can to count up. As the band played the audience was silent enough to hear a pin drop if such a thing is possible and when they had completed a tune the roars of approval came forth and as the set drew closer to its end each number found many giving standing ovations. No matter where you were seated in this venue you could see that these actions were truly touching the hearts of the musicians. “Ocean Gypsy” sounded lovely and this tune was actually covered by Blackmore’s Night a few years ago which just goes to show how far the reach of Renaissance music has gone. They did the number justice but there is nothing quite like the original when it comes to these songs. The set progressed through with “Things I Don’t Understands” and “Mother Russia” which I always felt was a powerful number and it would all close up with a lengthy and rousing “Ashes Are Burning”. During this tune there were a couple of solo breaks from Dave and Tom which were very cool to witness happening. Dave is a monster bassist while Tom was doing a slightly Keith Emerson, Rich Wakeman kind of solo on his keyboards. Frank would not offer up a drum solo which was ok since I didn’t think that would have fit in the context of the night but Annie at one point did do a little vocal showcasing in terms of high register notes against the keyboards and she was really hitting them out of the park. Fans that were in attendance and were singers themselves hoping for eventual greatness were pretty much left in awe and humbled respect at the talents that Annie Haslam still has as a musician.

I found the setting to be perfect for a concert like this but there were one or two issues I had from the music reporting side. The lighting was very difficult on the photography and since it was a seated show it was very difficult to get right up there and do some shooting and then get back out of the way. I was further back in my actual seat and was not permitted to use any flash while regular folks in the audience snapped away. Of course many of them were chastised by the venue staff because in such a dimly lit theatre this would be distracting to the performers. I would have liked to hear “The Vultures Fly High” and “Can You Understand” but they were not performed tonight but outside of that I had no real issues to bring out. It was an amazing display of classic Progressive Rock that still sounds great and maintains relevance. After the show had completed Annie and company would do a short meet and greet with the fans but I would not remain for that and instead chose to get moving. I had a full itinerary this weekend and tomorrow my adventures would continue with KISS at Madison Square Garden. Thanks again Mom for playing me such an awesome band when I was a child, I am happy to report that they did not disappoint me and I shall see them again when they do another go round. I am sure that I will not be alone in this view as a number of the nice people that I talked to during the breaks had told me that they had been waiting some twenty to thirty years to see this band perform again. I think it is safe to say that many of the same faces will be gathering when future dates get announced.

Renaissance Set List:
1. Prologue
2. Carpet Of The Sun
3. Midas Man
4. Running Hard
5. Black Flame
6. Northern Lights
7. Ocean Gypsy
8. Things I Don’t Understand
9. Mother Russia
10. Ashes Are Burning

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