Not so long ago, the expanded Enid were performing with a full orchestra and choir at Birmingham Symphony Hall. Tonight, there are just three of the blighters – surely the smallest combo ever to tour under the banner of the nation’s finest symphonic proggers – playing in front of a proportionately select audience. This is by no means the first time they’ve had to rebuild from the ground up. The career suicide of their foolhardy diversion into rave music in the early 1990s was something from which many of us feared they’d never recover. But The Enid are remarkably tenacious and their core audience fiercely loyal even as they sail into uncharted territory.
With the older generation dropping like flies (ELP are now reduced to P, for example), many veteran bands are having to face some tough questions. Do they recruit younger musicians and carry on playing the audience-pleasing old stuff, effectively turning into an officially sanctioned tribute band? Or do they take the risk of opting for something bolder, honouring what went before while striking out in a new direction in the hope of winning new fans while retaining the old ones?
The youthful current Enid have chosen the latter option, and the nature of their dilemma becomes apparent when they open the first of two sets with The Fool from the band’s brilliant instrumental debut, In the Region of the Summer Stars. As keyboard player Zachary Bullock will later remind us, not only did none of the musicians on stage play on that album, but they weren’t even born when it was recorded. Still, if the term ‘classic rock’ means anything at all, it refers to music that endures beyond its original audience.
So where are the three-piece Enid heading? Frustratingly, we still don’t know. They’ve hinted at something darker and heavier, but interim new album Resurgency simply comprises re-recordings of older material in the trio format. Now they’ve hit the road for a brief tour, performing the album in its entirety, presumably to demonstrate that they can pull it off live. The result is something of the proverbial curate’s egg. First the good stuff. Guitarist Jason Ducker, drummer Dom Tofield and keyboard player/vocalist Zachary Bullock are all exceptional musicians, perfectly capable of celebrating the band’s rich legacy. And at least we can now see Dom rather than having him tucked away at the back of the stage behind banks of keyboards. But as a three-piece, they have to rely much more on backing tapes and samples, especially to recreate the bass sound, and should really consider using a touring bassist. Worse, giving Bullock’s vocals the vocoder treatment throughout is a big mistake for a band aiming to look forward rather than back. One half expects them to break into Sweet Talkin’ Woman or Mr. Roboto at any moment.
They conclude with a suitably grand and rousing Shiva from Journey’s End before a swift encore return to the safety zone of In the Region of the Summer Stars for The Last Judgement. The applause is as warm as ever, but this incarnation of The Enid remains a band very much in transition, with plenty of writing and ironing out on the agenda.