Area: 11 April 2014 - London

[6 May 2014]

By Alex Franquelli

Italian Prog Giants Are Back With a Mission

The warm air, for once, arrives from the busy street, where what remains of the day casts long shadows on the sun-drenched shop windows. Soho is hidden behind a Victorian building protecting a vague combination of ordinary debauchery and weekly perversion. In here, the wait for what is probably one of Italy’s greatest bands of all time is almost as palpable as the mythological aura surrounding it. Most reunions dangerously sway on the verge of grotesque. Some are entertaining for all the right reasons, but some others are a necessary deed and an almost mandatory requirement by historical grounds alone.

Area (or Area International POPular Group, if you wish) made history in the 1970s, when their cleverly precarious balance of jazz, Mediterranean ethnic folk, electronic and progressive rock broke many a barrier establishing the band as the most intelligent representatives of an era deeply intertwined with politically motivated struggles and pure creativity. When diplophonic vocalist and experimentalist Demetrio Stratos passed away in 1979, the band entered a hiatus occasionally interrupted by reunions which, however, bore the marks of a troubled past and somehow marred the historical legacy of the ensemble.

But this time things are different. Club 100 in London, England, is an intimate venue that manages to create a state of mutual transmission between the artists and their audience, and tonight makes no exception. Guitarist Paolo Tofani enters the stage settling in on a higher platform, placing his hands on his Trikanta Veena, sitting on the floor with his legs folded and the kind of calm only a pious Hare Krishna follower radiates. A few minutes later, keyboardist Patrizio Fariselli, bassist Ares Tavolazzi and Walter Paoli behind the drum kit, join the charismatic multi-instrumentalist for the title-track of their first album, “Arbeit Macht Frei”, which hordes of progressive rockers have unconsciously been trying to imitate with often debatable outcomes.

The passing time has left the band’s musicianship untouched, so much so that one could be forgiven for occasionally thinking that, outside, on the now dark streets of London, the IRA is still planting car bombs and the oil embargo outshines an ever-impending Cold War. We are travelling back to the 1970s, and Area’s flawless rendition of their most iconic tune: “Luglio, Agosto, Settember (Nero)” erodes our remaining certainties to project us into 1972’s Black September. Munich, West Germany, eleven Israeli athletes on the floor and a song to remind us how, 40 years later, “humanity is [still] drowning in blood”. The main theme is repeated like a mantra, as it seems to unfold in a placeless and timeless limbo: from Greece – where it originated before being moulded by the band– to one of the capital cities of the empire, sometime in 2014.

“Cometa Rossa” is a song that requires more than just dexterity, but the band’s complex jazz flows relentless before leading the performance into the almost inevitable solos (“Nervi Scoperti”). A moment of quietness is reached with “Efstratios”, where Patrizio Fariselli pays a moving homage to Area’s long-gone voice. It is an emotional, speechless dialogue between the piano and the bass, and the audience seems to feel the physical weight of the tension created by the invisible sonic waves. But there is more to life than nostalgia, and “Elefante Bianco” and “Gerontocrazia” lead the performance onto a more dynamic path by building a crescendo which finds its climax with the avant-garde masterpiece “La Mela di Odessa”.

The band thanks the attentive audience and we leave Club 100 with a newly acquired provision of faith in humanity. It won’t last long, we know, but there is enough of it to make us grateful for the tremendous performance. We reach the moonlit pavement only to leave it a minute later, as the tube swallows our voices and the clamour of the streets of Soho morphs into the muffled clanging and banging of a dusty northbound train.

Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/181106-area/