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Culture Reviews
Piano Magic
35 mm 
By Alex Meredith
“As you can see, there is no Piano” confessed front man Glen Johnson as the 5 curious looking members of Piano Magic took the stage. “Yeah, and where is the magic?” came the predictable reply from a heckler in the sparse crowd. It was a beginning of a rather tedious dialogue between Johnson and the heckler who was a little too pleased with his English skills to keep them to himself. Despite the distraction, Piano Magic’s five merry men, set about pulling off the most important trick of the evening – entertaining a sombre audience - and with their style-proof appearance and a powerful, moody set that is exactly what they achieved.

Combining pumped-up tracks from their thoughtful new album “Disaffected” with some older crowd-pleasers, this was a loud, precise set that did its best to overcome the wide-open spaces of the cinema venue. For an eager newcomer to Piano Magic like me, it was an enjoyable 90-minute taste of the band’s catchy lyrics and heavy guitars.

Describing the quirky group is, however, not an easy task. If Coldplay were sucked into an underground dimension and returned 10 years later, slightly heavier, a lot poorer and with a far more distinctive, genuine sound then they might do a good impression of Piano Magic. Glen Johnson is the Chris Martin style front man who produces every one of the interesting and engaging lyrics that have seen them attract some notable critical attention across Europe. Boasting such a productive writer and a changeable cast of talented musicians, it seems an injustice that this attention has not yet been converted into more consistent success. But if that mainstream success is what they crave, a little stylistic input to their stage appearance is something they really should consider.

On this occasion, Johnson appeared in a black tank-top (one of a total of three on show), white short-sleeve shirt, black trousers, black tie and hiking boots. If it hadn’t been for the 6-string around his neck, you might have thought he was about to deliver a quantum physics lecture. Flanked by a guitarist who could have come straight from the set of Walker Texas Ranger and a bassist sporting an early Beatles bob, the band provides a striking parody of the manufactured record company model.

Perhaps we can put their somewhat idiosyncratic appearance down to the predominance of one nationality. The French have a commanding three-fifths majority in the band (increasing to two-thirds when you include guest vocalist Angele David-Guillou) suggesting that Johnson might well find himself outvoted, should he try to suggest that their look takes on a bit of Anglo-Saxon uniformity.

Even so, the minority get their revenge in the music. Though they are credited with a broad range that has forced them to switch record labels for nearly every one of their productions, this set had one thing written all over it - Made in England. Light Britpop melodies, the occasional sprinkle of the Cure and drawn-out circular guitar crescendos reminiscent of Pink Floyd were all given ample airtime. Add some melancholy Joy Division lyrics and echoes of Morrisey and you could almost set your compass by Piano Magic’s firm musical origins. One subtle variation to this Englishman’s delight, the twist of lime in the Gin & Tonic, was the programming and keyboard work of Cedric Pin. The electronics never overpowered the cherished guitar flavour but added a bonus layer of sonic intrigue, particularly important as the tracks reached their climactic finales.

One disappointment I felt was that these finales did not go on for longer. To cut a track short in its prime is understandable when you are working on a CD marketed at the mainstream masses. But with a captive audience hanging on every note, it seemed a shame that Johnson, drummer Jerome Tcherneyan and fellow guitarist Franck “Texas Ranger” Alba did not continue indulging themselves with a few more minutes improvisation. Admittedly these departures from the script did occur more frequently as the gig went on, Alba taking to the drum, then playing his guitar with a wooden stick, but still I felt that the fun could have gone on. Seemingly, however, even this level of craziness became a bit too much for guitarist Alba’s delicate gallic constitution. He signed off on the gig by taking out the speaker system with a comical delirious swoon.

Though perhaps not quite inspiring the same level of emotional exhaustion in the crowd, these underrated journeymen of the European indie scene had certainly struck a chord. It was hardly magical, but for me the pianoless five-piece achieved just enough originality within a familiar genre to make it a thoroughly enjoyable evening’s entertainment. A listen to the more varied but downbeat album suggests that if you like your guitars to the fore then stick to Piano Magic’s rare live performances.

07.02.06
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