I confess that I’m not an avid watcher of DVDs, but this one sparked my interest. I’ve followed Haken since their first Album “Aquarius” (2010), and seen them twice at ProgPower Europe and umpteen times in London, so I guess I can be considered a fan. I somehow doubted that a DVD was going to add anything to the live experience, but what I hoped for at the very least was the replication of the quality.
Before commenting on that, I did something I wouldn’t normally do when reviewing and that is to check the price. For what I would consider to be reasonable, you get a lot. There are two DVDs. The first consists of the band’s 2017 concert in Amsterdam capturing their ten years as a band, while the second has five songs from ProgPower USA 2016 and official videos of “Initiate”, “Earthrise” and the ethereal “Lapse”, which doesn’t appear in the live sets. This all comes in at just under three hours of solid and imaginative prog. There are no other bits like interviews as you sometimes get. That’s good. All that can be found on other media. This is all about celebrating the music. The question is whether it’s all worth having? The material spans all albums. It would be criminal if “Cockroach King” wasn’t there or my personal favourite “The Architect” but they are. I remember an electrifying performance of “Crystallised” in London, and was pleased to see that this was on the ProgPower USA section.
Do we need to see chaps entering from back stage? It’s no intrusion. They don’t self-consciously pull silly faces, there’s no nonsense and they get on with it. This is a feature of this production. In fact within a minute we have reached emotional heights. All the pomp and power and creativity and harmonisation are captured. Cameras are everywhere so we’re at the back, the front, at the side and looking at the audience. This is managed well. One by-product, which amused me, is the reaction of the audience, who don’t know whether to dream, wave, headbang or what. This is the music of thoughtfulness but it just seems disrespectful to stand like a statue. If you haven’t seen Haken live, there’s every opportunity to be blown away. Having seen the London edition of this show, I was fired up again, but this time with the advantage of a closer appreciation of the origin of the sound waves and instrumental subtleties. And as for those harmonies … vocalist Ross, aided by his mates, is celestial. I remember first watching Haken a few years back and thinking how quirky they are, perhaps at the expense of everything else. The 22 minute “Aquamedley” and of course “Cockroach King” reminded me of that, but now it’s the polished article, whatever era of their history they’re capturing. Whilst “1985” is now a staple and as I remembered it, I actually appreciated more the softer sensitivity and subtlety of “Red Giant” this time round. Here are hymns, hard prog, depth, imagination and instrumental mastery. But in my book nothing beats “The Architect”, which has all this and more unending drama. I’d forgotten about the energy level of “The Endless Knot”, possibly my least favourite song on the “Affinity” (2016) album. The crowd bounced. They knew how to respond. Then after a few quick off-stage faces from Ross, the band are back for the encore, nailing this deep and exciting show with 23 minutes of “Visions”, another uplifting and warming epic.
DVD2 with the band’s 2016 ProgPower USA performance comprises different material and represents a cross-section from “The Mountain” (2013), the EP “Restoration” (2014) and “Affinity”. I was surprised that from the latter album that “Earthrise” was here, but it has a commercial side, which is less present on the other songs, so maybe it was a question of balance. In any case the set is typically technical or experimental. What Haken do once more is to weave more atmospheric and dynamic prog magic. For me the incomparable “Crystallised” captures everything. I felt its psychedelic side, the air of mystery, the intense drama and the strong playful element. And then there’s an amazing acapella dual harmony in the middle of it. This is a bunch of serious musicians having fun, and transmitting that fun and electrifying atmospheres in our direction. Mike Portnoy enters the stage at the end and bangs the gong, so ending another magnificent and professional performance.
My Dutch friend Erik, who may well have been at the Amsterdam concert on this DVD, and I have a running joke that no year is complete without attending at least one Haken concert somewhere. Does this DVD count? Of course it’s not the same and the producers have done a great job in eliminating the isolation that inevitably occurs when you’re not there taking it all in. I still felt goosebumps watching “The Architect” from my living room. This DVD is a compendium of Haken’s work so far. If their work is familiar, it will bring back good memories. If it isn’t, I’d say it’s a great experience. This is quite a journey and one that I recommend taking at least once a year.
(9/10 Andrew Doherty)