Italian Prog-Rock Powerhouse Goblin Shines Bright at The Rickshaw

photo by Daegal Almond
photo by Daegal Almond

With day one of Vancouver’s freezing fog touching down on the city, we prepare for a night of ‘70s horror synth driven prog. With a fitting sense of unease, we stroll down glorious East Hastings, past the Wild Man Fischer lookalikes, to the wonderfully unassuming Rickshaw Theatre.

Being unfashionably early, I preempt the arrival of limitless over 50s, bonded by DHT,  resembling the cigarette butt collectors that so generously offered me drugs as I walked by.

Past the reasonable doorman, we hold up the bar to fuel up before rummaging through the Goblin merchandise, displayed nicely, stage right. We decide to hold off buying their new re-working of old classics Goblin Tour EP 2013 released on Deathwaltz, by purchasing it instead in one of Vancouver’s good independent record stores.

Meanwhile, as DJs work out world psych-funk and Tom Ze-styled vibes, the crowd slowly fills the venue. With the clientele resembling more Deftones than Goblin, Basketball take the stage with their own take on drone space-rock a-la-concrete. Guitars to wind instruments, their go-nowhere songs seem to go nowhere, but it feels intentional, and the quarter-filled room seem content and interested. Particularly pleased is my newfound Mexican BFF who, I suspect, creamed his pants after the second note was played.

Following the hordes, we moved to the front of the stage, leaving only the over 50s in their rear seats. Running the risk of entering Spinal Tap territory, Basketball exit, and enter the V.Vecker Ensemble to take the controls to drone rock central. Sax melodica midi-synth freakouts and Indian santurs twang periodically thoughout their set, sometimes resembling Bruno Spoerri or even LLoyd Miller, which I’m sure didn’t appeal to the ever-growing number of token girlfriends wandering aimlessly with their white wine spritzers…

Next up, after a strong if not slightly too long support set by the V.Vecker Ensemble, Goblin appear with no less than three original members: frontman/guitarist Massimo Morante shares the stage with OG keyboard and synth maestros Claudio Simonetti and Maurizio Guarini, and don new bass player Bruno Previtali and drummer Titta Tani.

As if it were a small miracle, the crowd use their telepathic skills to spill into the venue together like lambs to the slaughter. Although Goblin don’t have a prolific back catalogue, these Italian gods gained top shelf status with prog-rock soundtrack business and spared no time in playing their eerie prog monsters from Suspiria (1975), Zombi (1978) and Phenomena (1985).

On stage, Morante needs no gimmicks. He stands, almost completely still, yet glowing radiantly and staunchly proud of their recognizable numbers being reenacted so perfectly. Throughout the set, he conducts the band, while in tandem, allowing endless arpeggios to sing through his guitar. Guarini and Simonetti are perched either side, neck deep in Roland Jupiter keyboards and every other peripheral boys’ toys imaginable. Newcomer bassist Previtali is an absolute rock of a rhythm section, making sense of  the polyrhythmic detail in need of grounding. While not looking overly comfortable playing, he keeps the show together with every single note played to perfection.

With band members of this calibre, it’s no surprise really that new drummer Tani takes a backseat to the others, or at least his obvious skills get a little lost in the sea of keys being blasted from every angle.

I should not forget to mention the Suspiria-styled dancer that makes two appearances during the set. Another injection of Spinal Tap? Possibly, however, Goblin fans know the score, and it’s OK by me. To be honest, I didn’t think it was possible to dance to all those ‘la la la’s in Suspiria

The visuals projected on the screens on either side of the stage get a little lost in the mix, but I’d say the pensioners in the back seats got a far more appealing perspective… *wink wink*

As this was a mostly instrumental night, the band didn’t speak much, but when they did, it was with possibly the best broken English I’ve ever heard. “Welcome here!” Morante cries. Were we not supposed to say that? Who cares. These are three OG shredded wheat in your cereal bowl and you’re not leaving until they’re eaten. From this point on, the crowd was owned, including those girlfriends, who put down their spritzers and took notes.

This is how it’s done. This is how it should be. Goblin.