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EVENT REVIEW: Above and Beyond Acoustic II at The Albert Hall, Manchester Sunday 1st May 2016

The Grammy nominated trio Above & Beyond surprised the electronic music world in 2014 with their decision to perform their beloved electronic music songs mainly produced through digital technology with 15-piece band  at London's famous Porchester Hall and at The Greek Theatre in Los Angeles. The YouTube video of the event hosted at Thump has around 3.150.000 views so far and it is big joy to watch it again and again particularly when you need inspiration and motivation to move forward. When they announced that Acoustic is back with 2nd instalment this year their fans went absolutely obsessed with the idea and the tickets for the majority of the shows in Europe, USA and Australia have sold out. What is more this time Above & Beyond have changed their supporting vocalists and except Zoë Johnston they have added Justine Suissa, Cobi, and Natalie Holmes. Also as supporting opening act they have added the beloved Solomon Grey well known with their collaboration with Lane 8 on Diamonds. One of the latest days added in this magnificent tour was the iconic venue Albert Hall in the music city of Manchester. I tried  to send  emails and phone around people to see if I could find a ticket to attend this show as its is close to the city of Leeds that I'm based. Just 2 hours before the start of the actual show on Sunday 1st of May I got a tweet message from Solomon Grey band who have told me that they manage to arrange access to this Sold Out event. The excitement was immense as one of my dreams was about to turn into reality and after 1 hour and half thanks to the frequent trains between Leeds and Manchester I manage to reach the iconic Albert Hall and be on time as Solomon Grey went at the stage.

Solomon Grey thanking their audience
Solomon Grey with simplicity and subtlety 
Solomon Grey is the band and composers Tom Kingston & Joe Wilson. They long awaited album Solomon Grey was  released in March with critical acclaim and their fanbase grows gradually everyday with shows booked in various parts of the world. Certainly  Solomon Grey sounded .the best choice as supporting act for the Above & Beyond acoustic show tour for several reasons. The most important for me are (a) the strength of their magnificent songs that sound like being  composed in another galaxy and been transported on earth, (b)the memorable melodies supported with their very individual way of singing them with lyrics that talk straight to your heart and (c) the minimal set up of their performance. Just imagine two guys with synthesizers and some samplers that create the mystical atmosphere that move your spirit instantly to somewhere else. Their performance was a big revelation for me as I was mainly aware of them through their collaboration with Lane 8 and the magical Miradors released on Anjunadeep. Musicality and perfect harmonies combined with cinematic strings, electronic synths and incredible ambience that uplift your moods and heal the woods. Certainly their big struggle  to manage finally to record their debut album is mirrored in their arrangement, is echoed in the melancholic singing and the high class of the final result that justifies music as art and not only as product that can be packaged and sold. The menu of their performance were songs that warmed our hearts and brought  certain spiritual bond between the various strangers that compose their audience. Overall what I will always remember from their performance is the minimal electronic set up that could bring so much enjoyment and magic perfectly placed before Above & Beyond acoustic show.

Around 8.45 Above & Beyond asked the audience to refrain from recording or taking photos with cameras or phones as one of the shows most probably in USA will be recorded and will be better for the audience to let themselves go with the flow of the music and get immersed with their performance. The stage was a  very different set up from the ways that I get used to see them live in events like Creamfields, Tomorrowland and Nature One. Last year Above & Beyond performed Sold Out  dj set at Albert Hall in Manchester so their return in this venue but with an acoustic set up was real treat for their North England fanbase. The stage was crowded by wide variety of live musicians playing instruments that could enhance Above & Beyond songs with that cinematic epic uplifting atmosphere.  Jono Grant and  Paavo Siljamäki played the piano chords while Jono played also some strings and xylophone while Tony McGuinness leaved his rock star dream with his incredible acoustic and rock guitars that he played during the various songs.The proceedings started with the brilliant Hello that has been totally revamped into an uplifting acoustic piece with all the singers taking part as one voice saying Hello to the audience who was eager to enjoy every single second of this performance.  They took us by surprise nobody was expecting something so strong from the beginning so they started applauding with great enthusiasm at the end of this uplifting intro. 

The mesmerising Zoë Johnston
Zoë Johnston's touching performance
Rather than documenting this event track by track I would prefer to give my feelings about each singer and their incredible heartfelt performance. The first singer to move at the forefront was Zoë Johnston and you could say that her presence and very emotional voice has been associated with Above & Beyond without doubt. Her incredible live performance of We’re All We Need, Save Me,  No One On Earth and most significantly Good For Me was absolutely revealing of her simplicity and ability to connect with her audience in a such deep and meaningful way. Because of the difficulty on some moments to place her microphone on the stand, she had to hold it in her hands and this definitely added extra warmth and tenderness to the final result. The audience was singing along with her and they were absolutely mesmerised from her ability to add a different take on the already  known songs. The cinematic arrangement and the powerful sound  often associated with bands like Portishead encouraged the audience to get transferred to other spaces. She gave you the impression that she doesn't sing for a big audience but she rather addressing her singing for each of us. Zoë Johnston wins her audience with her simplicity, down to earth attitude and her  confidence in her vocal abilities that were manifested in this very demanding performance. 

The new revelation: Cobi
Cobi... on the way to heaven
Rock infused moment from Cobi's performance


New revelation at the Above & Beyond acoustic II tour is the singer Cobi who came to continue where Alex Vargas has left on Acoustic I. He was wearing a brilliant suit giving me him extra class and finesse that doesn't pass unnoticed particularly in the female audience.  The task was very difficult for him as he had to sing all the male songs like On My Way To Heaven, All Over The World, Sticky Fingers, Blue Sky Action, Thing Called Love and more. He was shinning when he had to stand at the front of the stage and in some moments he even added a rock concert touch by doing what rock group singers usually do to bring extra excitement and drive the audience out of their heads. His voice has the sensitive side that Above & Beyond songs require without loosing his manly stamina and adrenaline inducing moments that can make the crowd sweat as they sing a long and swept away in his strong arms. What is also very important is that Cobi didn't attempt to sound like the singers that have recorded these songs for the first time. He took the challenge in his hands and with bravery and confidence added his own spin to those songs with incredible highs and heartfelt lows by making you feel the feelings that these tracks convey like pain, sorrow, happiness, and despair. All the contrasting emotions were used from the available canvas in order to let those songs grow within the iconic Albert  Hall and make the seated audience stand up to shout and cheer. As it seems Cobi will be part of the next Above & Beyond album and we expect to hear him on songs written especially for his voice. His new single Darker Than Dawn is out now so maybe want to taste it. 
The Siren of The Sea at the Albert Hall stage: Justine Suissa
Ethereal Justine Suissa at Royal Albert Hall
The always perfect Justine Suissa
I must confess that I was excited because my all time favourite singer Justine Suissa has been added to Acoustic II and her performance was something that I was looking forward as her previous live performances were mainly in electronic music concerts that singers don't usually manage to realise their full potential with Armin van Buuren for instance. The acoustic  project was the perfect moment for Justine to come forward and mesmerise the crowd with her incredible voice. I was very anxious as I didn't want to be disappointed and thankfully Justin performance was above and beyond of any other performance from electronic music singer. Her magnificent retouch of the classic anthem Satellite that manage even to reach the UK Top 40, the incredible Another Chance and the concluding On A Good Day made me realise that Justine is one of those singers that deserve to have solo albums and be on the level of recognition of pop singers like Adele for sure. So much fragile sensitivity, emotional expressible, warmth and tenderness are difficult to discover in other female voices. Justine performance was reassuring, encouraging, supportive and some times very dynamic as well. She has the ability to animate so many pictures in our imagination when she sings and her performance at Royal Albert Hall manage to transcend us in magical spaces and faraway places without even moving one step. We hope for more material from her project Oceanlab soon.  

A name to watch out for, the ethereal Natalie Holmes
Second biggest new revelation of this incredible show was Natalie Holmes. Her  young youthful voice was mature enough to keep her at the level of the very experienced Zoe and Justine. Her performance of Counting Down The Days was mesmerising and her  ability to carry away the audience and allow them to discover the complexity and expressiveness of her voice was certainly noteworthy. Natalie with her inclusion in this acoustic tour places a big milestone forward for the development of a bright career in the future.

From the most incredible moments of the night I would like to pick up firstly Tony McGuinness amazing performance of the rock infused Black Room Boy that is considered to be one of the darkest and most socially conscious songs with lyrics that describe the harsh reality that many isolated people leave in front of their computer screen. His voice is definitely very expressive and he should consider recording more wonderful songs.

 Second fantastic moment was definitely when the colourful confetti explode and the whole place erupted with all the seating people standing up and start applauding them with big enthusiasm. It was fantastic climax that carried away all the fans above the stars. Thirdly fantastic moment was when the band prematurely they said goodnight and left but the crowd was so much into it that was shouting for them to come back and they did it of course with Paavo saying to the crowd that such a marvellous night with such a fantastic crowd can not finish like this and they carried on with couple more songs. All good things come to the end and in the same way this great show came to its closing point. Fans were demanding for more but certainly 2 hours live acoustic show  is very tiring and exhausting experience for the live musicians. This incredible experience will be remembered for ever exactly because  its duration was  long enough to satisfy you without loosing your interest and what is most important finished when you start developing hunger for great music and this is the perfect timing to finish.

The final bow from Above & Beyond to an incredible audience
Dimitri Kechagias review:
[review top="1"]
 [item value="10"]Above and Beyond Acoustic II at The Albert Hall, Manchester[/item]
 [content title="Summary" label="Overall Score"]Overall Above & Beyond Acoustic II was an incredible show that was staged at Royal Albert Hall that could aid the  band to create an atmosphere that flirts with the audience memory and excites their curiosity by bringing arrangement surprises that reference film soundtracks and musicals. The superb atmosphere could surround you with wide variety of emotions that can trigger either laughing, applauding, screaming, shouting or even crying. The sound quality was crispy and clear and you could listen every single instrument played in perfect harmony while the lighting and the stage with the big screens at the top that you could see projections of the singers or even music videos related to the tracks were very well prepared and perfectly executed that any member of the audience would feel totally satisfied and most importantly asking for more. With film soundtrack references and big room acoustic sound it was one in a million live experience. I can not recommend you enough to attend any of the Acoustic II performances that may happen in a city near you and I would say that Above& Beyond should extend the tour with additional dates. More fans deserve to experience that! Thanks for this precious night all the people involved![/content]

Stream us on Spotify: http://po.st/abspotify

Full Tracklist:
1. Hello
2. We’re All We Need
3. On My Way To Heaven
4. Save Me
5. All Over The World 
6. No One On Earth
7. Black Room Boy
8. Peace Of Mind
9. Sticky Fingers
10. Alchemy 
11. Counting Down The Days / Liquid Love
12. Blue Sky Action
13. Another Chance

Additional info:
Above & Beyond:
Live Dates: http://po.st/ablive
Soundcloud: http://po.st/absc
Instagram: http://po.st/abins

Solomon Grey: