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Legend - Playing With Fire CD (album) cover

PLAYING WITH FIRE

Legend

Neo-Prog


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SouthSideoftheSky
SPECIAL COLLABORATOR
Symphonic Team
4 stars A "legendary" performance!

Legend's 1991 studio debut album Light In Extension apparently generated much interest over in Japan, much more so than in their British homeland. Due to this interest in the band a Japanese tour was planned, but for some reason it never materialized. Instead of bringing the band over to Japan, their Japanese label decided to film one of the band's UK shows and release that as a live concert video aimed at the Japanese market. I don't know how well the video did on that market and it is apparently a very rare item today(?). Now, almost 20 years later, we have the audio of this concert film as a live album appropriately called Playing With Fire after the name of the 1992 tour.

With only one studio album to their credits, the set list naturally relied heavily on material from that album. Six out the 11 songs performed here were taken from that album and according to the booklet these live versions of the songs are "as the band wanted them to be heard". Four of the songs here would later appear on the band's second album Second Sight that was in the making at the time. The songs from both albums are slightly different from their studio counterparts, but not considerably so. The remaining number is an instrumental "improvisation" called Toccata & Blues, credited to J.S. Bach. This is not that unlike something that Ritchie Blackmore would do live in Deep Purple and Rainbow with various keyboard players over the years.

The set list is varied and alternates between faster and slower tempos. The sublime vocals of Debbie Chapman are as clean and powerful as on the studio albums and the keyboards and guitars of Steve Paine and Paul Thomson respectively are equally impressive throughout. They certainly are a tight band and their music works very well in both studio and live form. It is hard for me to pick out favourite tracks as I love all of these songs, but the eight minute Prog Folk of Windsong is certainly one of the highlights. It does sound a bit more powerful here than on the studio album. The ballad I Close My Eyes, the only cover the band has recorded I think, stands out as being different from all the other tracks with its anti-war lyrics and bombastic chorus. But it works well as a counterpoint to the hard edged, "Pagan" Prog of the rest. The title track from the Light In Extension album closes the show on a very high note; it may not be overtly progressive, but boy do I love this song! Otherwise, it is not so much specific songs, but rather certain passages within almost all of the songs that stand out to the degree they divert from the studio versions.

It is impressive how Legend could put up such a great show with only one and a half albums worth of material to choose from. It was perhaps slightly premature to record a live album so early in the band's career, but this is still an excellent live document from a great and "hungry" band yet to reach their peak. While the sonic quality of this recording is not perfect, the energy and power of the performance is well captured. It might not sound as flawless as many latter-day live recordings, but the sound quality holds up very well among many classic live albums from the 70's, for example.

Since the band's studio debut is quite hard to find now, Playing With Fire will function as an excellent way to get hold of several songs from that album. I would, however, recommend to start with the band's studio albums (in reverse chronological order), but this live album is an excellent addition to any collection that already holds those albums. Indeed, all the albums by this criminally overlooked band are very highly recommended!

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Send comments to SouthSideoftheSky (BETA) | Report this review (#294289)
Posted Thursday, August 12, 2010 | Review Permalink
4 stars Firstly let me thank SouthSideoftheSky for his excellent reviews of all three of the current Legend studio albums, along with this remastered collection of songs from the first two of them which were performed live at Runcorn UK in 1992 to be filmed for release as a concert video in Japan, where for some reason the band enjoyed far more success back then than they did at home.

The reasons for this are incomprehensible to me. Just like SouthSideoftheSky, I only recently learned of the existence of Legend, but they have been around since 1988. If you visit keyboardist Steve Paine's official band website (see link at top of the main Legend page), he says there: "Legend's songs are woven around mystical and pagan themes, folklore and archetypal myths" and maybe this apparent specialisation in the subject matter of the lyrics is putting people off and restricting their potential audience - I don't know.

Steve goes on to say "they are about passion - not fashion" and this certainly shows when you listen to their music. Let me say this - forget the pagan/wiccan influences, this band plays beautifully crafted songs that are a joy to listen to irrespective of what they are actually singing about. Just like SouthSideoftheSky, I have bought all the CDs of this band, and all are quite excellent - period!

This particular CD, "Playing With Fire" is not a straight through recording of the 1992 concert as it happened on the night, with applause, in-between-song banter etc., which in some ways is a shame - because I love to hear all that stuff too! There was talk a year or so ago of the concert itself being re-released on DVD, but that seems unlikely in the foreseeable future unless there is a sudden resurgence in interest for the band. I certainly hope this happens one day - my name will be right at the top of the order list for it! A brand new CD "Cardinal Points" is just about to be released, but more of that later.

On this CD most of the songs are remastered and included as a separate entity, with in-between applause faded out. It starts with a song from their first album "Light In Extension", namely "Pipes Of Pan", and continues with "Dance" from their then unreleased follow up "Second Sight". These two do indeed segue as played on the night, and it is not easy to spot the transition! Both are stunning up-tempo rockers, sung exquisitely by Debbie Chapman, but with wonderful keyboard breaks and guitar solos freely interspersed. The rhythm section that played live here, and which also recorded "Second Sight", was different to the one that did "Light In Extension" in the studio, and they perform absolutely superbly - so much so that even allowing for the remastering that these recordings have benefited from, they have given the songs something extra in my opinion. There are shifting time signatures throughout Legend's song repertoire, and they are all coped with admirably here! The whole band excels live - there was even a stunning light show on the actual night that led to a flurry of UFO sightings being reported later that evening!

The album continues in a similar vein with "Nightshade" and "Windsong" from the first CD - both again performed flawlessly. Debbie's voice has a clarity and purity comparable with that of Annie Haslam of Renaissance, and the energy and skill that all the musicians show here suggest that much rehearsing must have been done prior to this show in order to nail this material so well, as legend did not perform live all that often so I believe, and the second album itself was as yet unrecorded. The only actual cover on the album follows next - ie. "I Close My Eyes", originally a folk song written by Robb Johnson, and their version is once again superb. Such is their flexibility in being able to play so many different styles, I am quite sure they could make almost any song their own.

"The Chase" is another up-tempo rocker from the first album that gets the crowd clapping along - purely instrumental is this one, with Paul Thompson's guitar very much in evidence. The next song, "Legend", from "Second Sight", slows things down somewhat to start with, but still retains the band's unique "epic" sound, and builds towards the end into a rousing climax. "The Healer", after a brief and soulful instrumental intro, has Debbie singing along accompanied purely by Steve's electric piano before the rest of the band join in. This song again builds beautifully as it goes along, yet neither this or the previous piece , "Legend", have been played live much since.

"Lament" is a much slower song from "Light In Extension", and is followed by an arrangement of J.S. Bach's "Toccata & Blues" before the brilliant album closer "Light In Extension", the opening & title track from the debut CD. This song is performed superbly, as you might expect. It flows along beautifully from start to finish - exquisitely sung with a wonderful melody and some great individual keyboard and guitar performances - all held together throughout by the rock-solid rhythm section.

Legend's music is hard to pigeon-hole - they are classed here as neo prog and certain aspects of their sound certainly fall into that category, but there is so much more to Legend than this. They have their feet in numerous camps to my way of thinking - they touch on folk & gothic as well as traditional outright rock, but it is always done in their own unique style, and anyone who enjoys symphonic female-fronted metal such as Nightwish or Within Temptation will also find plenty here to enjoy. Some people have commented that this music might not be true prog - it MUST be, because no one else to my knowledge sounds quite like them!

A new album "Cardinal Points" is due for imminent release (late March 2011), with a new line up. Debbie Chapman is replaced by Kerry Parker on vocals, and there are different bass and guitar players from those who did the last two albums (not really surprising after a 14/15 year hiatus!). A short edit of "Spark To A Flame" is available via the "Listen" tab on Steve Paine's official Legend website, and this suggests that the band's continuity in style will be very much maintained despite these changes.

I have added a number of videos to this page which were uploaded by Steve to YouTube recently, & which I think show this magnificent band to good effect. If you've never listened to Legend before, then you don't know what you've been missing. The new CD is available to order now, & I can hardly wait for mine! Copies of the previous ones, including "Playing With Fire", are also still available from the same outlet at the time of writing - so get em while you can!

As for a rating? - 4.5 Cardinal Points at least! Maybe even pushing 5 in places! - It's good...!!!

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Send comments to progrockfreak (BETA) | Report this review (#423251)
Posted Saturday, March 26, 2011 | Review Permalink
kev rowland
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Crossover Team
5 stars After the release of 'Light In Extension' Legend found that they were popular in Japan, but as they were a small band with no record label support they couldn't really tour there so instead released a live video for which they had hired a great light system and had a blast. For some reason they never released a live album, but that has now been corrected by Steve going back to the tapes for the video and releasing 'Playing With Fire'. This is Legend in concert live in 1992, and as anyone who was lucky enough to see them back then this was a prog band with a concentration on power rock, great interplay between keyboards and rock guitars (think a far more modern sounding Uriah Heep with the emphasis on the keys as opposed to the guitars). I was lucky enough to see them three times in concert, and I was always blown away by the sheer power and might of the band in concert. Somehow singer Debbie Chapman managed to soar above it all, there have been melodic chaos going on but her clear and powerful vocals shown above it all.

Someone coming across this now would say that there are strong elements of Nightwish in this album, but remember that Legend pre-date them, they were doing this first! This album contains many of my favourite songs, including "The Chase" ? which is a perfect example of what propg rock instrumentals can be like, exciting and invigorating it is incredible and set the heartr racing every time I play it.

Legend are back, with a compilation, this live album and the stunning Cardinal Points ? so if you were unlucky enough to miss them first time around, and many did as they didn't fit in with the normal prog scene, then you owe it to your ears to find out about them this time. www.stevpaine.org

Awesome!

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Send comments to kev rowland (BETA) | Report this review (#489435)
Posted Saturday, July 23, 2011 | Review Permalink

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