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Twisted Illusion - Grand Central, Manchester 24.05.2018

Twisted Illusion have been intrinsically linked with my career as a reviewer, their second album "Insight To The Mind Of A Million Faces" was the first album review I ever wrote, their first UK tour started in a town not too far from me (because I knew the guy who ran the venue and organised the booking), their other subsequent releases have all been sent to me for comment and I've been pretty much universally impressed. So a few weeks ago when Matt Jones (Twisted Illusion's key songwriter, guitarist & vocalist) contacted me insisting I make arrangements to be off work and in Manchester when the band played this Anniversary gig I was touched, flattered and frankly a little flustered (I don't tend to enjoy asking my bosses for time off from my day job, they scare me somewhat!). But as the day after the show seemed clear for me to request a day off I did just that and I was off to Manchester.

I'll try to focus on the gig here because that's what this is all about, but before and after I had an opportunity to chill out with Matt and the band's guest live lead guitarist for one night only, Saxon Davids. It did not diminish the experience of the gig to see the two guitarists working their way through the album, dividing up vocal harmonies and tightening up the guitar harmonies they would be playing later that day, nor was the protracted journey to the venue a major problem, we just dealt with the adversity and got to the venue.

I watched the bands setting up and chatted briefly with some long-term Twisted Illusion fans who had travelled in for the show, we shared anecdotes from past live shows and jokes regarding the other act playing in town that night (some guy called Ed? apparently he was in a stadium), Matt Jones talked briefly about the new single for "Hatred Is A Virtue" which featured a newly recorded ambient version of the crowd pleaser the band would be playing later that night. I also had a chance to briefly chat to the band's bassist Mark Wagstaff, and drummer, the ever-affable Matt McDade, we talked about dogs, naturally, myself relating tales of my pooch and Matt speaking of his hope to adopt a dog soon. After this I popped out for a bite before returning to the venue for the first band taking to the stage, I had seen Midnight Prophecy at the previous Twisted Illusion gig I'd attended and they were as good this night as they had been on my last chance to see them, storming through their (to these ears vaguely Maidenesque) setlist with gusto as tight as you would like. Impressed with the first salvo the audience was then treated to another act I'd seen previously at my first TI show, Tomorrow Is Lost whose phenomenal set paved the way for the main event. Twisted Illusion performing the entirety of 'Temple Of Artifice', apparently the name came from someone Matt knows' brilliant description of the nearby Arndale Centre (a pretty big shopping centre for those who don't know).

The set list for the show basically followed the CD track-list, but the live performance had a certain electricity and fervour which lifted the experience above simply listening to the album, each song was followed by rapt applause from a crowd of devoted "Illusionists" (the most affectionate term Matt has used for fans of his music) and Matt talking to the crowd, all around me folks were singing along with Matt Jones & Mark's vocals, while Matt McDade drummed phenomenally from somewhere just out of sight behind the backlights and the backline, holding the rhythm brilliantly, with all the flourish one could hope for in a Progressive band (Matt Jones hates the label that Prog music forms over the band, Matt actually can't stand his music being labelled with genres at all, which is a viewpoint I totally understand). A mid-set highlight was the ever popular 'Hatred Is A Virtue' with guest vocals from Craig Cairns of Midnight Prophecy, as well as the entire audience shrieking along to Matt's original vocal melody. Having played the entire album you would expect the band to take a breather but that was not the case here, we were treated to one of the highlights of "Insight..." the magnificent "Nobody's Child" a heartfelt embattled paean to Matt's life to date and the struggles he has gone through and then given a taste of the forthcoming album "Excite The Light Part 1" in the shape of "No Compromise". Saxon Davids' performance throughout on lead guitar was sensational, I for one found it difficult to believe that he had only run through the songs with Matt that day having learned them from the albums, truly a testament to Saxon's musical skills.

I have seen many bands playing albums in their entirety as a live show, this is a good way to capture the imagination of an audience that perhaps has grown up with the songs, or perhaps it is done because the songs work best collected together in that way but while it is true that some bands cannot reproduce their recordings live, Twisted Illusion do not suffer from this problem. This is a band whose music has all the depth and intricacy a Modern Progressive music fan could hope for, but more than that these musical details are something they have reproduced live each time I have been able to see them.

Review - Mike McLaughlin

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