Live Gig Review: Voyager & Ihlo – 20 April 2023 – Boston Music Room, London, UK
Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past couple of months, you’ll be acutely aware that something special is happening on 10th May 2023. That’s right, ‘a bunch of guys from Perth, Western Australia’ will take to the stage in front of around 180 million people worldwide, and announce that heavy metal is alive and wonderful. And they will do it with a giant smile on their collective faces, with energy, enthusiasm, and will blow the competition away.
Ok, so they have to get through the semi-final first, but if they do end up on the big stage in the final, they will put on one hell of a show if last night was any indication. I’ve seen the Aussies on stage a number of times now, but as my mate Simon remarked to me, “how is it that an already great band get better and generate so much energy and sheer joy?” My reply was simple: “Magic. Plus talent, belief, & love for the music…” I may not have any musical talent to speak of, but I recognise it in others, and these guys are special.
The evening didn’t get off to the best of starts though. For one, the traffic on a wet, dreary Thursday evening was horrendous and, once in London, the sat nav decided to take me dangerously close to the abomination known more widely as The Emirates Stadium. What should have been a two-hour journey took nearly three, as the unique style of driving in London by the locals seemed to cause gridlock at every turn. Nevertheless, I found somewhere to dump the car and took off on foot a short distance to the venue.
After a pat down by a friendly, amiable security gent at the entrance of the Boston Music Rooms (the most action I’ve had in a depressingly long time), I entered the venue for the very first time. What confronted me was a compact, but pleasant space, gently filling up with patrons of all shapes, sizes, and ages. In fact, it was one of the most diverse crowds I’d seen in a fair while, something that pleased me greatly.
After meeting up with the aforementioned Simon, the coolest clergyman that I know, and his ‘little’ boy who towered over me effortlessly, it was time for the support band, Ihlo to take to the stage. Aware of the band from the dim and distant past, it didn’t take long for the UK-based progressive metal quintet to impress me, and a growing section of the audience. Blending post-metal, djent, classic prog, and all sorts into something powerful, cohesive, and thoroughly entertaining seemed incredibly easy to the largely Scottish outfit, as they worked their way through a 35-minute set that went by in a flash. Ten extra bonus points for having a left-handed guitarist, but a hundred bonus points for the sound that came out of the guitar, and the other instruments surrounding it. I have spent some of today listening back to their recorded output, such was the quality of their handful of songs on-stage.
I’ve actually begun to run out of superlatives when describing Voyager shows, so what follows may sound familiar to longer-term readers. As their stage time grew ever nearer, the sell-out crowd of approximately 250 started to buzz, anticipation growing by the moment. When at last Voyager hit the stage, the roar was incredible, every bit as loud as the sequin-studded, shoulder-padded garments that festooned the five Australians.
Immediately, the energy was palpable and within seconds, vocalist Danny Estrin had us eating out of the palm of his hand. It felt like the reception they received even took the band by surprise, if their wide eyes and grins were anything to go by as opening track ‘Hyperventilated’ concluded to a roar of appreciation.
A one-off warm-up gig ahead of Eurovision this may have been, but as they said themselves, they loved being ‘home’, in a venue of metalheads, able to play for longer than three-to-six minutes. And it showed, as they ripped through banger after banger that included ‘Dreamer’, ‘Ascension’, ‘Breaking Down’, and personal favourite, ‘The Meaning Of I’. Of course, there was the obligatory airing of their Eurovision ditty, ‘Promise’, which sent the crowd into overdrive, and impressed me more in the live arena because of the increased heaviness, mainly, but also because it just makes even more sense on a stage rather than on YouTube. Well, duh, Matt.
A word has to do to the sound engineer who travelled from Germany just to work at this show – the mix was superb, allowing the band to do what they do best without having to worry one iota about the sound. And what they did best, was grin, bounce, throw shapes, and gurn, all whilst delivering a set that was as tight as a duck’s arse. The consummate professionals that they are, there was not a duff note, a missed cue, or anything.
In the blink of an eye, Voyager entered their ‘encore’, although dispensing with the antics of wandering off and then coming back on. Instead, we were treated to ‘Lost’ with the Darude mid-song break-down, and a further, totally unplanned extra song of ‘White Shadow’. It may be a bit of a joke song to the guys now, but such is their quality, this glorious NWOBHM/power metal romp outperformed most power metal bands plying their trade today. On this evidence, I’d listen to a full-length Voyager power metal album any day of the week. Manowar who? With bassist Alex satisfied, for he had led the extra song mutiny, Voyager left the stage to a hero’s reception, promising to ‘slay the shit’ out of ‘Promise’ at that upcoming European music party thingy, the name of which escapes me…
…Bring it on, I say! Australia, douze points!
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