Renaissance are a peculiar band to say the least. They were part of the progressive rock tradition coming out of 1970’s England, but they were more committed to sounding more classical than rock. At least compared to more well-known prog bands like Yes, Peter Gabriel-era Genesis, and Emerson, Lake, & Palmer. This is a band who did a live album at Carnegie Hall with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. All their best known songs have some form of orchestra backing. So with their show on November 10 at Buffalo’s Tralf Music Hall, a place that obviously can’t fit a whole orchestra inside, I wondered how they could pull the feat off.
On the surface, this sounds like less like a rock band and, as their name implies, a renaissance fair band. But considering they’re still touring, playing in packed music halls, and maintain their stamina despite continuing to play songs around 10-minutes long with many subsections, they certainly deserve much more credit.
The only remaining member from Renaissance’s 70’s glory years is lead singer Annie Haslam, who has a five-octave range and can still hit and draw out many high notes. She was also the only member to talk to audience between songs. Clearly, the audience came to see Haslam; they gave her much of the adoration between songs. The rest of the band, which included two keyboard players, one dedicated to recreating the orchestral and atmospheric sounds from their albums, maintained a very stoic presence, hardly engaging the audience in ways other than singing their assigned backing vocals.
They did play two songs from their latest album, 2014’s Grandine Il Vento, the title track and “Symphony of Light.” Other than that, the eight other songs were from the band’s 70’s era. Prog classics like “Mother Russia,” “A Song for All Seasons” and “Carpet of the Sun” were indeed crowd pleasers, with lesser-known tracks like “Sounds of the Sea,” providing more pleasantries, especially with the sounds of ocean waves and seagulls.
The encore, the usual closer “Ashes are Burning,” was the only chance the band looked like it was having fun and getting loose. Through it’s 15-minute runtime, everyone took a solo, including the only use of electric guitar the whole night in the final section.
The show was an odd treat, listening to music of such a bygone era. One where such audacious, un-rock-like rock music had a chance at being commercially successful. Renaissance may not be exactly “hip” anymore, if they ever were at all during their peak years, but I imagine they’re fine with that. As evidenced by the crowd, there will likely still be people interested in this middles ages type of music.