On October 12, 2019, Renaissance performed a special concert at The Keswick Theatre in Glenside, Pennsylvania. It was a very special evening for many reasons, and thankfully it was captured on video and tape. The end result is this box set, featuring two CDs, a DVD, and a Blu-Ray featuring the concert remixed into 5.1 surround sound. It is a wonderful souvenir of an incredible evening.
Renaissance was formed in 1969 by two members of The Yardbirds, Jim McCarty and Keith Relf, who left The Yardbirds, eventually transferred into The New Yardbirds, and later joined Led Zeppelin. Following a one-off single as Together, the duo formed a band that would combine folk, rock and classical. Their debut album (Renaissance) was released in 1969. Since 1969, there have been numerous changes with the band, but a key person joined in 1971: Annie Haslam. In fact, Haslam has been with the band longer than any other member.
This concert, and resulting box set, is an excellent overview of the history of Renaissance, performed beautifully by a new line-up. They are also accompanied by The Renaissance Chamber Orchestra, who are needed to reproduce these classic songs live on stage. The current line-up with the orchestra sounds fantastic. Of course, Annie Haslam is here and she has never sounded better.
Opening the show, “Carpet Of The Sun” (from the classic 1973 album, Ashes Are Burning) kicks off the event in fine form and it is, in a word, glorious. Rave Tesar, who has been with the band since 2001, provides the perfect keyboard accompaniment for this and every song on the collection. He also serves as the musical director. But, here is the big sound, a wonderful blend of rock and classical, with fine guitar from Mark Lambert (who has been playing guitar for the band since 2015 but played bass in the band from 1985 - 1987).
The band seamlessly moves on to “Ocean Gypsy” (from 1975’s Scheherazade and Other Stories) which, again, is beautifully arranged and sounds amazing. The band touches on most of their studio albums, and reproduces the original songs beautifully on stage. One of the highlights is their performance of “Mystic And The Muse” (from 2011’s The Mystic and The Muse EP). Perhaps more obscure than the other songs, it is a stellar piece that could have easily been from the 1970s. “Symphony Of Light” (from 2013’s Grandine il vento) comes off beautifully. Haslam’s soprano vocals are simply breathtaking. It is refreshing to see a band with its history include songs from their later incarnations, as these songs sit very comfortably beside their more classic songs.
Perhaps the biggest surprise is Jim McCarty, who joins the band for an outstanding performance of “Island,” which is from their 1969 debut album. It is fantastic hearing this live, and Haslam’s vocals sore during the song and you can actually hear how happy she is to perform with McCarty. McCarty joins the ensemble for the emotional closing song, “Ashes Are Burning.”
The concert was beautifully recorded and mixed by Tesar. He has done a fantastic job of creating a wonderful mix, while at the same time maintaining the live sound. Haslam’s vocals are up front, as they should be, and the performances pour out of the speakers perfectly. While the CDs sound great, the performance benefits from being presented in 5.1 surround.
Tesar does not let anything overpower, and using the five speakers allows him to place the listener in the centre of the music. Much like being an audience member, the music comes at you perfectly balanced, while the ambience of the live performance is actually caught. This allows the listener (and viewer) to focus on the performance. There were times when, being so immersed in the performance, the urge to clap had to be suppressed. Visually, it is wonderful to see the musicians tackle these complex songs with such ease.
Overall, this is an incredible package and a beautiful tribute to a brilliant band. 50th Anniversary: Ashes Are Burning - An Anthology - Live In Concert serves as a wonderful cross section of Renaissance’s incredible career. It serves as a history of a band that broke rules, defined their own sound/genre and continue to make some of the most glorious music ever recorded.