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Arena - Smoke & Mirrors CD (album) cover





3.83 | 61 ratings

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5 stars A Masterpiece of Neo Prog Performance

Celebrating its 10th Anniversary, Arena did a tour in 2005 in which one of the gigs was recorded on a DVD titled "Smoke & Mirrors". This DVD comprises two gigs: first live set was filmed and recorded at Teatr Slaski im. St. Wysplankskiego Katowice, September 22, 2005 in Poland. The second live set is a Reunion Concert - Fan Footage De Boerderij, Zoetermeer, Holland, October 16th 2005. The DVD started with countdown activities by each member of the band starting with Mick Pointer which read a newspaper at 1 PM until all members were called to depart to the venue using a van. It's a cool opening right before the performance.

First Set: Poland's Concert

As far as concert DVD this is my second experience watching the band's performance shot at DVD. As I do enjoy watching the first one "Caught In The Act" it's the same case with "Smoke and Mirrors". Production-wise this new DVD is better than the first one. It opens beautifully with "Bedlam Fayre" from the band's latrs album "Pepper's Ghost" with neat music and tight performance. It continues almost seamlessly with opening track of "The Visitor" album "A Crack In The Ice" which I really love as it has excellent combination of melody, beats and structure. After these two openings, Rob Sowden does an opening talk introducing the band's intention to play older tunes.

"Midas Vision" was started with unified choirs between Nolan, Sowden and Mitchell. Oh yes, this tune reminds me to the early days of Arena when I was very happy knowing that ex drummer of Marillion - Mick Pointer -strikes back into prog music arena. Yesz! This tune really gives me a right nuance of the second awakening of prog music when Marillion carried the torch of old school symphonic prog rock music in a simpler way, called neo progressive. Practically, early 90s was the period when I did not pay attention to prog music anymore - especially after Fish left Marillion. But when I saw new band Arena came out in mid 90s with their excellent debut "Songs From The Lions Cage" it made me happy really.

Well, "Elea" follows nicely which is then continued with "The Hanging Tree". This tune is really memorable in terms of melody as well as its symphonic style combining powerful voice of Sowden, ambient guitar of John Mitchell as well as beautiful keyboard work of Clive Nolan. I see that Mick Pointer enjoys his work as drummer. The guitar solo part of this track is really kicking. Ian Salmon performs his tight basslines, combined with symphonic style of keyboard work. I do enjoy this track performed live at this DVD set. Really cool!

From the beginning track until track 7 (Don't Forget to ) Breathe this DVD really stirs my emotion. I requently sing along with the band as loud as I can sing - regardless the lyric is right or not. DVD is really kicking! It does satisfy my needs that music is emotion - and I honestly experience total satisfaction with this DVD. Oh man .. you must watch this DVD yourself especially when you see "A State of Grace" and "(Don't Forget to) Breathe" tracks. These two tracks kill me really! John Mitchell's guitar work is really amazing and rocking! Clive Nolan did headbanging at the ending part of this track. Oh yeah .. "(Don't Forget to) Breathe" rocks!!!

The break is utilized by Nolan to tell the crowd about the celebration of 10th Anniversary and it was responded nicely by the crowd who sing along together the birthday song ala Poland. It's quite dynamic vibes and it indicates that the band is quite close to its fans. As I do not really favor "Pepper's Ghost" album, the next track "Smoke & Mirrors" does not seem special to me even though it's not that bad at all. It requires time for me to digest this song.

Clive Nolan's clavinet sounds at the opening part of "Waiting For The Flood" is really stunning. The classic tune "Medusa" is then performed excellently. "The Shattered Room" starts with Nolan's soft keyboard sound followed with powerful voice of Sowden backed with symphonic keyboard sound. As with previous DVD, "Chosen" is started with Pointer's drum beats - a bit annoying actually as there is little variation - but it's okay when the music plays together. Sowden is now using yellowish spectacle as he did in Caught In The Act DVD. Well, this opening track of "Immortal?" album has a powerful lyrics and great composition. "Freedom of speech but we have no voice. Freedom of spirit but we have no choice .". I do enjoy guitar solo and keyboard solo performed at different segments of this tune. Great tune!

The show is getting hotter with "Witch Hunt" where it has upbeat tempo and the crowd starts to participate actively. The classic track "Solomon" is also performed excellently. The show concludes beautifully with the crowd sing along on Cry VII "Help me .. help me . oooo .. help me!". Clive Nolan stand up at the front without his keyboard and he sings along with the crowd . Fantastic closing.

Second Set: Holland's Concert (Reunion)

The second set is covered under DVD Extra and it shot the band's performance with guest appearance of Arena's previous bassist John Jowitt which is now with IQ and Jadis. Even though the audio quality is not as excellent as first set, this performance is much more rockin' than the first one. John Mitchell and John Jowitt play their instruments with full stage acts unlike when John Mitchell played at the first set. It's quite surprising that the opening part started with Paul Wrightson sings "A Crack In The Ice" from the crowd position. It's really cool. All tracks performed at this set have been played at the first set but it's good also to enjoy this second set as the vibe is different. I do enjoy this second set as well as the first. It's really great! "We will be as one forever!"


As you have seen at the top that I have already given full five stars rating for this DVD because it proves that the band is much matured in its 10th anniversary. John Mitchell's guitar playing is really awesome. Clive Nolan's keyboard work is stunning. They perform the concerts in solid state. There is minus point as well even though it's not significant: ie. John Mitchell and Ian Salmon do not seem very happy with this gig as they do not do any stage acts like they did at "Caught In The Act" DVD. Keep on proggin' ..!

Progressively yours, GW

Note: For those proggers in South East Asia countries, don't miss the prog metal event: i-Rock! presents: ANGRA Live in Jakarta, October 16, 2006!

Gatot | 5/5 |


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