The show was a meditation on the age of steam, but Blast at Curzon Street Station on Friday took me back just a few years, to a time when we were all trooping off to see site-specific spectaculars in some neglected corner of the city every other weekend.
This was a huge production. The Hot Pipe Organ from Berlin – a booming, rumbling, fire belching incarnation of some dark Tolkenian fantasy – is usually the centrepiece of any event it visits. Here it was one element amongst many, visually balancing the huge mass of the station building possibly 200m.
The show started as the sun set. Wood fires licked round 25 black boilers, quietly hissing white clouds of steam into the blue sky. The performance was full of steam and whistles and flames and hammered metal percussion, punctuated by fireworks and large-scale video projections of old trains.
Drawn like moths to these opening night flames were a wealth faces from the city’s arts scene. Total numbers were difficult to estimate, as the site was so big, there could have been thousands, but there should have been more, given the effort involved and the scale of the team’s endeavour.
The evening was full of spectacular images and fearsome sounds that will live long in the memory. A line-up of such high caliber artists meant we were expecting nothing less. The disappointment was a lack of structuring and editing shaping these contributions. One suspects that the democracy and mutual respect between the assembled names meant it was difficult to be ruthless with material. Pruned back hard to three quarters of an hour and ordered to give a strong trajectory the piece could have been heart stopping and jaw-dropping. Talk in The Woodman afterwards was that the second performance would be trimmed down. As it was, many people left well before the end.
Out door performances full of burning torches and industrial scale percussion often put me in mind of Nuremberg. At their worst I sense these shows are done too us not for us – there is no interplay, just ‘shock and awe’. The Large Hot Pipe Organ made a strong case for ‘shock and awe’ and the black boilers whispering took Blast beyond the genre cliché. It seems indisputable that the raw materials were there for a great show, what was missing was a keen sense of direction – says a director. If you follow the link you will find that others present had fewer reservations, and I’m delighted that this is so.