I don't think we've reviewed a Live Album before at Nordic Music Review and in most circumstances we wouldn't normally do so, but this is no normal live concert and Major Parkinson are not a normal band. The Bergen based outfit that somehow combine progressive rock, catchy if twisted pop tunes and some demented dark nursery rhymes, are quite possibly our favourite band, so we feel morally obliged to take a listen.
Its rare that the intro tune of a Live Set can instantly set anyone off with goosebumps and feelings of such intense emotion, but by opening with Cardiacs 'Home of Fadeless Splendour' (you can see it in the Live Video which has been released to accompany the album), Major Parkinson instantly achieve this – the anthem has such a special place in my heart, that I want to laugh, cry, cheer, smile and respectfully bow my head to the Alphabet Business Concern. And it's perfectly judged too, singer Jon Ivar Kollbotn shakes audience members by the hand and stands still at the front of the stage, allowing us all to remember the familiar pose of the amazing Tim Smith, without whom all of our musical lives would be so much less rich.
But whilst Major Parkinson may wear their Cardiacs influences proudly on their sleeves, they are a band of striking originality in their own right. 'Live At Ricks' is not only a brilliant demonstration of what makes them so special, but for those of us stuck in the UK and not able to see them live, it's a perfect accompaniment to their studio releases, and provides a deeper insight into their mysterious world.
The live concert features their most recent release ‘Twilight Cinema’ pretty much in its entirety, and in the order featured on to the album. Opening in silence with the stripped back ‘Skeleton Sangria, I’m immediately struck with the depth of emotion and intensity that Jon Ivar Kollbotn is able to generate, and the introduction of the string quartet adds an extra layer of beauty , whilst the band play a slightly manic fairground waltz on top of the strings – its just so good and I already have a huge smile on my face. Nothing though will ever match the brilliance of ‘Black River’, with its gorgeous haunting female vocals accompanied by organ, and the blistering powerful track that accompanies it. The use of a trio of female singers is hugely important to the success of this live performance, and mirrors too the final line-ups that many of us saw in those latter Cardiacs gigs. ‘Heart Machine’ follows ‘The Wheelbarrow’, and it’s the huge centerpiece of ‘Twilight Cinema’, a hugely potent track with an explosive middle section, which is pulled off brilliantly live. But it’s the other tracks that work so well live, ‘The Beaks of Benevola’ is an impressively subtle and intense track, and the female vocals again work so well.
After the theatre of the ‘Twilight Cinema’ tracks we’re treated to some real Major Parkinson favourites. ‘Adville’ demonstrates those huge shades of darkness and light, quietness and intense noise, whilst ‘Euthanasia Rollercoaster’ is a real personal favourite, a stand alone single which is a complex twisting and manic ride. We’re then treated to a quite astonishingly clever version of ‘Heart of Hickory’ that reminds just how much I need to go and see this band live. After a barnstorming version of ‘Silicon Hips’ and an insane version of ‘197’, this unique band leave the stage, and I’m left fairly blown away by what I’ve just heard.
These songs may be amongst the most listened to in my music collection, but hearing them like this genuinely makes them feel more 'alive', and my appreciation of the overall musicianship and attention to detail is now even greater. Let's be really clear, Major Parkinson are brilliantly clever, totally unique, utterly fantastic and hugely great fun to listen to and watch. 'Live at Ricks' is an essential addition to the Major Parkinson collection, and we cannot recommend this album highly enough.
Nordic Music Review 9 / 10
Incidentally you can buy a special Vinyl Box set of all of Major Parkinsons Album Releases from their Bandcamp page, totally indulgent but highly recommended. Looks like theres only 9 left, so hurry but please leave one in case anyones kind enough to buy it for me for Christmas....