The Venue, Winnipeg - March 23, 2006

DAVID SCHMEICHEL - Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 2:08 AM ET

WINNIPEG - Winnipeg waited more than 35 years for its first audience with Audience, the British prog-rock outfit whose 1972 masterpiece, House On the Hill, supposedly sold more copies here than anywhere else in the world.

We only wish we could say they were worth the wait.

Unfortunately, the band's would-be triumph was marred by a technical glitch of pretty epic proportions and further reduced by a series of increasingly frustrating false starts.

Playing to a near-capacity crowd at The Venue on Thursday night, Audience got off to a promising start, opening with a note-perfect version of the glam-anthem You're Not Smiling, the second track off the aforementioned cult classic.

The song was a perfect showcase for two of the band's strongest attributes -- Keith Gemmell's buttery saxophone, and singer-guitarist Howard Werth's voice, which blends the best of Bowie, Van Morrison and even early Peter Gabriel.

The band maintained its momentum with the Zappa-esque Jackdaw, which saw Gemmell busting out solos on not just soprano sax but also flute, playing flawless foil to Werth's spacey acoustic guitar.

The rarely played Indian Summer turned into a rousing crowd sing-a-long, but the audience's interest flagged when Werth hauled out covers of the Beatles and James Brown -- or, worse, compositions from his later solo albums.

And disaster struck about an hour into the set, when Trevor Williams's bass crapped out on him completely.

Werth and Gemmell gamely tried to vamp their way through a 10-minute version of Raviole before wisely calling for an intermission that stretched past the half-hour mark.

Eventually, a new bass was procured and rushed backstage, allowing the band to get on with the show (but not before suffering another indignity -- realizing mid-song that the borrowed instrument hadn't been properly tuned).

The players redeemed themselves with several more fiery cuts from House On the Hill but by this point, it was clear Audience hadn't done itself any favours by waiting three decades to play for their most devout followers.

The crowd didn't seem to mind, however, and the show would have closed on a high note, had the band not returned to once more misstep its way through an encore that quickly devolved into Spinal Tap silliness.

Opening act Swingsoniq, fronted by former Guess Who guitarist Greg Leskiw, fared much better, treating the crowd to its weird-in-a-good-way brand of bluesy, barndance-jazz.

With Richard Moody on viola and Nenad "Keza" Zdjelar on stand-up bass, the trio offered deft interpretations of Moonglow, Gimme My Money, and Let's Write Some Jazz Tonight, with all three players delivering remarkable, often psychedelic solos.

And their bass? It didn't cut out once.


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