by Prog Nick
Having had the privilege of attending Cruise to the Edge in 2022, I wrote a review about the event and in that review I made no bones about the fact that the best gig of the entire cruise, for me, was Lifesigns’ final show in the Royal Theater. You can read the review here. It was just an astounding concert – the perfect melding of pristine, crystal-clear audio and jaw-dropping musicianship both in respect of the band’s performances and in the expression of John Young’s magnificent musical compositions. It was a triumph, really, and the most of the music delivered in that concert was from the band’s last studio album, ‘Altitude’. Our review of that fine album can be read here.
With the memory of that concert still fresh in my mind, it now falls to me to review Lifesigns’ latest release ‘Live in the Netherlands’, and my expectations are high indeed. The two-CD set comprises tracks from the band’s ‘Altitude’ tour, recorded at legendary Prog venue ‘De Boerderij’ in Zoetermeer, Holland, in August 2022. The current, and now very stable, line-up of Lifesigns is John Young (keyboards, lead vocals, main composer), Dave Bainbridge (guitar, keyboards and vocals), Jon Poole (bass and vocals), Zoltán Csörsz (drums) and Steve Rispin (sound design from front of house.)
With twelve tracks comprising the record, ‘Live in the Netherlands’ is Lifesigns’ second live CD release (the first being 2015’s ‘Under the Bridge’), so let us begin by answering the somewhat predictable question: ‘Should there even be a second live album from a band that has only existed for ten years?’ The answer to this question is a resounding ‘Yes’ for two simple reasons: a) the excellence of the material that has been composed and produced during that period; and b) the sheer dominance of this band as a live act, which is deserving of an audience far beyond that which can inhabit any one room.
Each disc contains one of two sets performed on the night, and the track-list is an impressive one indeed. As will be appreciated by the band’s loyal fan-base, the list of songs represents a sort of ‘Best Of’ (Disc One), accompanied by a healthy dose of songs from ‘Altitude’ (Disc 2.) With the magnificent epic in ‘N’ in the list, Disc One alone is worth the price of admission. Other highlights include ‘Open Skies’ (a John Young solo song, now embellished by the fine guitar work of Bainbridge), the singles ‘Different’ and ‘Impossible’, both driven by the solid percussive presence of Csörsz, and the only song from the band’s debut ‘At The End Of The World’ (in Young’s words the ‘happiest song’ about the demise of humanity.)
But stay strapped in, dear Listener, for Disc Two, which is an absolute pilgrimage through the promised land of live Prog. The disc contains live renditions of all the tracks from ‘Altitude’ excluding ‘Arkhangelsk’ and ‘Altitude Reprise’, and includes a John Young solo song. The song ‘Altitude’ itself is, of course, a lustrous example of Young’s compositional skills and the band’s performance chops. Every segment of the song fits perfectly with the next, and the result of the overall journey is somehow far greater than the sum of its constituent parts. This song shows that John Young truly does represent the embodiment of the channeling of musical angels, and Poole, Bainbridge, Csörsz and Rispin are the perfect partners to deliver this road to musical heaven. Eminently impressive Prog.
Matters take a more straight-ahead approach with rocker ‘Gregarious’, featuring one of the brightest personalities in Prog, Jon Poole, on energetic backing vocals and bouncing bass guitar, and a blistering Bainbridge solo. Young briefly introduces the band and addresses the crowd before the subtle and gentle start of ‘Ivory Tower’ – one of the most plaintive songs you have ever heard (especially live) – with Young’s warm vocal expressions filling the room (and your heart) with sadness and love.
Up-tempo numbers ‘Shoreline’ and ’Fortitude’ are presented in quick succession, and the results are, interestingly, quite jazzy whilst still very powerful, especially with Csörsz’s tasteful chops flowing in abundance. He is a very talented drummer indeed.
I had much to say about the brilliance of ‘Last One Home’ when I reviewed ‘Altitude’, and I have no less praise for the live version. Bainbridge’s solo is, once again, simply breathtaking. Not in any way should this be seen as a reflection on past members, but there is just something special about this line-up, and Bainbridge takes much of the credit for this. He is a special player. At this point it is also appropriate to note (as Young does during the chat between songs) how important Steve Rispin’s contribution is to Lifesigns. This sonic specialist is in all respects a true full member of the band, and rightly so: it would not be an overstatement to observe that Lifesigns would not be the band it is without Rispin’s contribution. He has that rare combined talent of being both technically brilliant but also eminently musical, and it is true to state that very few front-of house engineers have this rare combination of skills. The best sound I have ever heard at a live gig was Lifesigns on CTTE 2022, and this recording production is no less impressive. The album ends with the encore ‘Kings’, a weighty John Young instrumental that gives the whole band room to stretch, and the crowd’s insistent applause leaves the listener wanting more.
At the end of ‘Shoreline’, John Young playfully makes the following declaration: “We must do this again.” Indeed they must, and until they do, this live release will undoubtedly satisfy Lifesigns’ ever-growing and exceptionally faithful fan-base, until the next studio album, which is slated for 2024. ‘Live in the Netherlands’ is a wonderfully produced record of some of the finest compositions in Prog, delivered as only these fine gentlemen can do. If you have never caught Lifesigns live, do yourself a favour – you will not be disappointed. In the meantime, ‘Live in the Netherlands’ is the perfect record of just how good this band is on stage. Absolutely essential.
2-Open Skies 4:09
4-At The End Of The World 8:36
8-Ivory Tower 7:53
11-Last One Home 6:03
Order here: https://lifesignsmusic.co.uk/lifesigns-merch
The band are on tour this summer in the UK:
Lifesigns tour dates 2023
Jun 10: UK Milton Keyens Craufurd Arms
Jun 15: UK Birkenhead Future Yard
Jun 16: UK Newcastle Upon Tyne The Cluny (2)
Jun 17: UK Glasgow Ivory Blacks
Jun21: POL Kujawsji
Jun 23: GER Berlin (Marillion Weekend Support)
Jun 24: GER Dresden Puschkin
Jun 27: GER Hamburg Logo
Jun 29: GER Bensheim Musiktheater REX
Jun 30: GER Dortmund Piano
Jul 1: NED Zotermeer De Boerderij
Sep 3: UK Nene Vally Rock Festival
Sep 8: UK Truro Old Bakery Studio
Sep 10: UK Tonbridge Walled Garden Music Festival
Sep 14: UK Bradford Tapestry
Sep 15: UK Sheffield Corporation
Sep 16: UK Blackwood Songs From The ‘Wood
Sep 30: UK Aylesbury Limelight Theatre (John Young Solo)