As Dim Gray proved when they played with Marillion in late spring, they belong on these stages. Here, the Norwegians are afforded slightly more time than they had that night and use it to stretch themselves and their sound a little further.
One thing hasn’t changed in the three and a half months since they last played on these shores, though, and it’s this: Dim Gray’s majesty lies in their subtleties. From the opening “Abalus | In Time,” it’s clear that this is their vision, and that vision is unshakeable. There are parts of “The Wave We Thought We’d Ride Together” or the haunting “Murals” – an unreleased song – that are strident, but by and large, it’s the opposite of chest-beating rock ‘n’ roll.
“Closer” is an older song, ending in a maelstrom of noise from its gentler beginning. Tom Ian Klungland thunders on the drums here, and if Oskar Holldorff and Håkon Høiberg combine superbly for the harmonies on “Ráth,” then “Dreamers Disease” explodes, like so many do. Arguably, it’s more of a set closer than “Black Sun” (which does the honors), but this is Dim Gray’s world, and we’re lucky to live in it for 40 minutes.
About two-thirds of the way into this, Big Big Train plays a stunning version of “East Coast Racer.” After they finish, the Town Hall in Birmingham rises as one to acclaim it with a standing ovation (it’s not the first, nor the last). It fully deserved one.
And thus it also deserved the truth. A month or so back, prog rock’s great collective put out an EP called “Ingenious Devices.” It was brilliant – as is this show – but it (and the original versions of four of the songs) was the first BBT songs I’d heard.
They were a name I knew, of course, and I knew of the adulation they receive, which is why I’ve written this in the way I have: I wouldn’t want to look like an imposter. This is a band, after all, that people lose themselves in.
Watching them for just over two hours here, it’s easy to see why.
Ozzy’s ‘Crazy Train” had announced them (Alberto Bravin, the singer, and Rikard Sjöblom, the instrumentalist, were both wearing Sabbath t-shirts), but it was the magnificent “Folklore” that both kicked it off and revealed the sheer scope of it. The seven in 2023 (including Maria Barbieri on guitar) are augmented for these shows with a four-piece brass section, which gives the sound extra depth.
This is a very different set too. A couple of new songs from a new record they’ve completed, “Oblivion,” is particularly expansive, and the one they play in the encore, “Love Is The Light,” is gentle, airy, and filled with a lovely sentiment. Indeed, there’s a warmth about the way they play and a very obvious connection between the band and the audience.
As they are celebrating 10 years of the “English Electric” album, they do a deep dive into it by playing a couple of songs from it they never have before. “Keeper Of Abbey’s,” one of them, is incredibly impressive. Given the multi-national collective nature of the band, it has a very English sound, and the guitars intertwine with the harmonies superbly.
The band takes their first standing ovation after a stunning “Curator Of Butterflies,” which sees Oskar Holldorff take center stage again (he performs a dual role as the keyboard player in BBT), and things take a very Genesis turn on “Hedgerow.” The acapella, the violin from Clare Lindley, all merge with the trumpet, and actually, that heralds a kind of hiatus, a breather as Nick D’Virgillio takes over, first in his usual drummer’s role as part of “Drum And Brass 2023,” which sounds like a film score from the 1950s and is tremendous fun, then with Rikard Sjöblom for a beautiful tribute to David Longdon, who tragically died a couple of years ago.
The band returns, and things go up a notch for the aforementioned “East Coast Racer,” and if that’s a highlight, then the other song they’d never played before, “A Boy In The Darkness,” isn’t far behind, and “Apollo,” with its almost overture feel, ends the set.
There’s a couple more, the new one, and the old favorite, if you will, as singer Alberto Bravin smiles, “There’s only one left, but it’s a long one.” And “Victorian Brickwork” builds incredibly for one last time.
When he’d played, D’Virgillio had struggled with his in-ear monitor. It didn’t matter, he concluded, “We are all family, right?” and there’s a feeling of that, almost like Marillion, where there’s a cottage industry feel. Like Hotel California, though, you suspect that once you’re in, you can never leave.
So I might have been late on the journey, but Big Big Train was worth the arrival.