Friday, September 7, 2007
A Long Weekend, part 2: Threshold in Helmond
On Saturday September 1, the four of us -- my brother and his wife, a good friend and I -- went to see Threshold in Plato, a venue in the Dutch town of Helmond. My brother and I weren't exactly in top form -- the day after the night before -- especially since we aren't in our twenties anymore.
So we were rather a lot less present than normally at a Threshold gig: these guys are old friends (we're one of the few fans from the very beginning), and Petra -- my sister-in-law -- found that amusing, rubbing in it when we tried to be wild without really succeeding (she knows us but all too well).
Anyway, a surprisongly good show. Singer Andrew McDermot, or Mac for short, had left the band shortly before they went on tour, so the band asked one of their old singers to fill in for him at short notice.
Threshold and singers are, to put it mildly, an ongoing challenge. Bass player Jon Jeary -- one of the founding members -- also was their original singer. Jon wrote almost all the lyrics in the beginning, and while he's a great lyricist, he wasn't a great singer. Legend has it that on a gig he fainted while trying to hit a high note on one of the Wounded Land (their debut album) songs: not sure which one exactly, but I believe it was "Surface to Air".
So the band sought a good singer, and found one in Damian Wilson, who eventually sang all the songs on Wounded Land. However, for some reason (which escapes me) Damianwas replaced by Glynn Morgan on the band's second album: Psychedelicatessen. While Damian's voice was especially powerful in the higher regions, Glynn was a more allround singer: covering almost the whole spectrum. Or, as (keyboard player) Richard West later told me: he could hit both the high notes, and still have that grit and bite in his voice in the lower regions. They had tried to make Damian sing more grunting parts, but that only caused him to lose his voice for several days.
So while Glynn Morgan might not reach Damian's highs (although he sometimes came close, as I witnessed on some shows), his voice more than made up for that in the lower regions. However, he wasn't really happy with some of Threshold's complex lyrics (this would be a continuing problem), and -- as (guitar player) Karl Groom told me --he just couldn't (or wouldn't) sing the lyrics of "Part of the Chaos". That song was planned for the second album, but through Glynn's refusal/inability to sing it only appeared on the third album.
As it was, Glynn was a great singer, but not the right personality to stay with Threshold. Bad tongues might say that sometimes he was too stoned to perform 100%, and I'll diplomatically say the truth is somewhere in between. My personal impression: a very good singer with an almost incredible range, but a timid performer (not quite a front man type), and not really interested in the lyrics he was singing (also a recurring problem).
So, after the 'Livedelica' tour, Damian returned to the band to sing the Extinct Instinct album. Because Damian had less problems with the band's lyrics -- still mostly written by Jon Jeary at that time -- "Part of the Chaos" was included on that album (brilliant lyrics, BTW). Then he went on tour with the band, and reportedly freaked out during a gig in Spain. Point is, while Damian was -- and is -- a great singer, he was very timid on stage (Glynn was, too), rather insecure and needed to have his monitors amoed up quite high. This apparently didn't happen on that gig in Spain, and he, rather unexpectedly, became very angry and threw his monitor speakers into the audience. Which basically ended his second stay at Threshold.
So the band needed a new singer again: Jon Jeary was sarcastically referring to it as LSD: 'Lead Singer's Disease'. Andrew McDermott was the next singer. Roughly speaking his voice was somewhere between that of Damian and Glynn: a broad range around the middle, with no extremes in both the high and low ends. He debuted on Clone, whose music was still mostly written with Damian's vocals in mind. But Mac did a great job, and stayed with the band through the next four studio albums: Clone, Hypothetical, Subsurface, and Dead Reckoning.
Another shift took place in that Jon Jeary, up to that time the band's main lyricist, left the band, and keyboard player Richard West took over the role of lyrics writer (and with verve). Mac was a great studio singer, and a very good front man: in contrast with his two predecessors he wasn't shy of crowds, but actively interacted with them. The downside, though, was that Mac also never really connected with the band's (as always almost poetic) lyrics: he forgot half of them on tours, making up for that with pure bravado and crowd participation. And I will honestly admit that my brother and I had some great times when he reacted, often with wit, to our provocative shouts during gigs.
Mac had a great run, but in the end it didn't last. My best guess is that while he was (is) a great singer -- especially in the studio -- he really wasn't 'connected' to Rich West's lyrics, and Threshold's intention in general. I think -- and I don't mean that negatively -- that Mac really wanted to be in a party band, while Threshold's aims are much more serious.
So now Damian is back. Supposedly temporarily, but if I've picked up the signs at the Plato gig correctly, it might be more permanently. To be frank: Damian was a revelation. His singing was still as good as ten years ago, but -- more importantly -- he was on all the time: not a shy singer, but a very active frontman, communicating with the audience, carrying the show. And he sang the 'Mac' songs with verve, which is quite a difficult thing, as these songs were written with Mac's voice in mind. But Damian carried it off, and my brother and I agreed that the only song where he didn't really reach Mac's performance was "Light and Space". But he easily exceeded our expectations in all other regards.
We were very positively surprised, and told Rich (West) so after the show. Unfortunately we didn't have much time to talk, as my brother and his wife had to return home in time because grandmother was babysitting their sons at their home, and wanted to go home relatively in time (not at the crack of dawn). So my brother and I intend to have a longer talk with the band on Friday September 14 at the Biebob in Belgium.
I wanted to go to the band's next show in Zoetermeer, but something got in between, on which more in my next post.