Touchstone is a rather new progressive rock surprise from the UK. Although they didn't invent a new kind of rock music they are quite successful in Britain. After releasing the EP Mad Hatters (2006) and the CD's Discordant Dreams (2008) and Wintercoast (2009), they now bring out a double live album containing two live concerts: RosFest and the CalProg Festival. During both festivals the band consisted of Rob Cottingham (vocals, keyboards), Kim Saviour (vocals), Adam Hodgson (guitars), Paul Moorghen (bass, backing vocals) and Al Melville (drums). The latter left the band lately and was replaced by Henry Rogers, who also plays the drums in Final Conflict and DeeExpus.
After the narration in the short prelude by Oscar-winning actor Jeremy Irons, the band starts with Wintercoast, the title track of their latest studio album. This is a perfect opener for this excellent band. All elements of progressive rock are bound together in this ten-minute mini-opera: a marvellous guitar solo, many breaks and an up-tempo ending with flashing duels between drums, guitars and synths all in the vein of British neo-prog bands like Arena, Pendragon and Landmarq. Shadow is also up-tempo. Kim Saviour's voice is not as high-pitched as the voice of Tracy Hitchings (Landmarq), but the harmony vocals with Rob Cottingham is one of the finest trademarks of Touchstone. You can also enjoy a lot of guitar playing in the vein of Steve Rothery (Marillion). Close your eyes during the last three minutes of Shadow and you're under the impression of sitting in a dazzling rollercoaster. The tracks The Mad Matter's Song and Joker In The Pack reminded me of Arena and early-Marillion. Original Sin is an oasis of rest after all the heavy stuff. It's a fine ballad with a nice chorus and a wonderful guitar solo by of Adam Hodgson. Another excellent track is Black Tide. The guitar sounds a bit like the legendary English new wave band The Cure while Kim is perfectly shouting out her frustrations. Though the end of the song is rather heavy, it still sounds good to me. Line In The Sand, the last song of the first CD contains beautiful solos and an excellent vocal performance of Kim Saviour.
The second disc opens with the marvellous piece Dignity, a blend of a ballad and a rock song. The harmony vocals are clear and perfect and the middle-section contains excellent and flashy synth solos played by Rob Cottingham. Adam Hodgson's fast guitar really rocks the house, as they use to say in the UK. This beautiful epic strongly reminded me of Pendragon at the time of Window Of Life (1993). Zinomorph has the same high quality level with some hints of Pendragon either. The song is characterized by many breaks; a real pleasure to listen to. Voices is a marvellous ballad with a Marillion-like intro. Discordant Dreams/The Beggars's Song is not my personal favourite, but this piece contains enough adventurous solos to remain fascinating.
The first encore is Solace, a romantic ballad about a child's nightmare passionately sung by Kim Saviour. In a way this piece resembles Fish's classic song A Gentleman's Excuse Me. The second encore is the four-minute rock song Strange Days and the last one is the Tears For Fears- Mad World with a guest appearance of Arena's guitarist John Mitchell. It's an up-tempo version with lots of guitar and synths duels that make this piece a fine conclusion of the concert. In my opinion Touchstone's Live In The USA is one of the best and remarkable live CD's of the last three years. It's a real pleasure to listen to this band any time of day and that's just the way I like it.
**** Cor Smeets (edited by Peter Willemsen)
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