Arena - Welcome To The Stage

Year of Release: 1997
Label: Verglas
Catalog Number: n/a
Format: CD
Total Time: 73:27:00

Arena are one of a new generation of super-groups containing members of three of the top New Wave of Eighties progressive music. The band is formed around the core of ex-Marillion drummer Mick Pointer and keyboard maestro Clive Nolan of Pendragon, Shadowland, Stranger On A Train, Casino, etc., etc. They are joined by bass player John Jowitt when his work with IQ allows while John Mitchell provides the guitars and vocals are ably delivered by Paul Wrightson.

Welcome to the Stage is the band's third album following the success of their two studio albums, their award winning debut album Song From The Lion's Cage (1995) and follow up Pride (1997). The album was recorded over two nights in May 1997 at Le D'Auteuil in Quebec City, Canada as part of the band's Welcome To The Cage tour to promote Pride. The album was produced and mixed by John Mitchell with Clive hovering in the background. The cover art and booklet was put together by Matt Goodluck of Verglas Records and includes a full montage of photographs from the tour.

The album opens with a full three minute version of the "William Tell Overture" which the band use as their stage-setter. Although not played live, this is Clive Nolan's version of the piece, and it does serve to build the atmosphere up before the live music starts. In the old days of vinyl, maybe this would have been looked upon as a waste, but in the digital age with seventy odd minutes of space to fill, it is a good idea. With only two studio albums under their belts the live album is a straight mix of the most of the tracks from both. Maybe fans would have also liked to have seen the inclusion of the cover of the Marillion classic "Grendel" - a popular part of the band's live show.

The band hit the stage with "Valley Of The Kings" one of the many great tracks from their debut album. This is followed by the opening track from Lion's Cage, the powerful "Out Of The Wilderness." There is little difference between these track and the studio versions, although there is a great part in the quiet middle section where you hear the roar of the crowd mingling with the bubbling synths. We then get a third track from Lion's Cage as Paul really gets into the lyrics of "Midas Vision." It is interesting how Paul's voice differs from John Carson, the original Arena singer. Paul's singing on "Midas Vision" is totally different to John's on the studio album - much more anguished and raw. It is very effective.

"The Healer" is the first of the newer songs (of course, no Arena songs are that old), and at under five minutes, it is almost single-length! John provides an almost funky bass line, and we almost have a pop song ... After that we have the epic "Sirens" with Paul really getting under the skin with his lyrics. "Medusa" is another short track from Pride. Dinky keyboards from "Mr. Nolan" with Paul sounding almost like The Cure's Robert Smith at times. This is a cleverly constructed song which may only weight in at just over four minutes, but switches moods between verse and chorus very well.

There is not much band-audience interaction ... until now that is. Paul's bellowed greeting at the opening of "Welcome To The Cage" really hits the spot. I would imagine that this would have been the ideal set opener - maybe it was, you never know with live albums - and I was not lucky enough to catch the band on the Pride tour. This really is a high-octane song with a powerful verse and a great Nolanesque keyboard instrumental. The album finishes with two more songs from Lion's Cage - coincidentally my two favourites. "Jericho" is a great song, with some nice vocal work which works as well live as it does in the studio. I feel though that Paul's vocals lack some of the aggression which John managed to generate in the studio. "Jericho" may leave you breathless, but then we have the ultimate set finisher, the superb "Solomon." I love this track, especially the ending section. I could replay it and listen to it all night...

Some people may question Arena's decision to release a live album so early in their career. Live albums are usually done in the year that the band takes off to pursue solo projects, discover exciting new religions and recover from drug addictions (occasionally at the same time). Hell, a live album is only one step away from the Greatest Hits stage! Certainly Arena do not exactly have a huge repertoire of songs to choose from. But in saying that they have put together a very professional and polished album. The production is very smooth, and reflects what I have read about the tightness of the band's live performance. The packaging is equally polished and altogether the CD is a quality release. This is everything you expect from a live album.

The review comes courtesy Frank Blades and Alternate View - an ezine that has disappeared sadly (as of August 2005) - ed.

Valley Of The Kings (10:07) / Out Of The Wilderness (6:46) / Midas Vision (4:45) / The Healer (4:51) / Sirens (13:57) / Medusa (4:22) / Welcome To The Cage (4:33) / Jericho (7:01) / Solomon (13:55)

Mick Pointer - drums, percussion
Clive Nolan - keys
John Jowitt - bass
John Mitchell - guitars
Paul Wrightson - vocals

Songs From The Lion's Cage (1995)
Pride (1996)
The Edits (1996, OOP)
Welcome To The Stage (1997)
The Cry (EP, 1997)
The Visitor (1998)
The Visitor - Revisited (1999) (Dutch fan club only release, OOP)
Immortal? (2000)
Unlocking The Cage - 1995-2000 (2001) (Dutch fan club only release, OOP)
Breakfast In Biarritz (2001)
Contagion (2003)
Radiance (2003) (fan club only release)
Live & Life (2004) (box set)
Pepper's Ghost (2005)
Ten Years On (2006)
The Seventh Degree Of Separation (2011)
Live 2011/12 Tour (2012)
Arena XX (2016)
Contagion Max (reissue of Contagion) (2014)
The Unquiet Sky (2015)
The Visitor - 20th Anniversary Remastered Edition (2018)
Double Vision (2018)

Caught In The Act (DVD) (2003)
Smoke And Mirrors (DVD) (2006)
Rapture (DVD) (2013)
Arena XX (DVD) (2016)

Genre: Progressive Rock

Origin UK

Added: July 25th 1999
Reviewer: Frank Blades

Artist website:
Hits: 1273
Language: english


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