David Sylvian, Royal Festival Hall, London

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The Independent Culture

For David Sylvian, the Royal Festival Hall had its lights turned down to a mellow glow and incense wafted through the stalls as a suitably New Age mood was established. When Sylvian and his quintet of musicians emerged discreetly on to the stage he was greeted by a packed hall as warmly as Brian Wilson had been the previous week. Different artist, different music, same sense of adulation.

Sylvian, though, had a gently mocking response to the "love you David" cries of the crowd. "Evenin' all", he said, a smile hovering around his lips, before the jazzy opener began, Steve Jansen's polyrhythmic drums subtly supporting piano, guitar and soprano sax as a perfectly balanced ensemble was floated out over the auditorium.

It's been 25 years since Sylvian's old band Japan made its assault upon the charts, but there is still a sense that song structures are what suit his particular vein of creativity. This certainly seemed to be his notion during this performance, because he concentrated exclusively on the clearly defined song forms of his most popular albums for the entire show.

Sylvian played his newer material in the opening half of an intermission-free two hours of music. Of that, a beautifully integrated "World Citizen" unwound the ecologically conscious story of its lyrics with the deft magic of old.

By the evening's halfway point, it was clear that he had got pretty much everything right for this show, from the sound levels and balance to the performance-friendly arrangements.

Yet it was as he moved into the part of the concert where his older pieces were aired that a certain anti-climax could be felt. He radically re-cast such favourites as "Ghosts" and "Mother and Child" into pieces that suited his personnel and instrumentation and carried discernible rhythms at all points.

But in doing this the shivering contrasts of the originals were lost and a certain blandness crept in. Too much of the same. Or perhaps we would have been better off with an interval after all. In any case, the audience didn't seem to feel in need of one by the end, when Sylvian and his team expertly interwove the themes and words of such classics as "Brilliant Trees", "Before the Bullfight" and "Nostalgia" into such a suite of contemplation and quiet passion as to bring a storm of applause at its conclusion.

In encore time, "River Man" and other lyrics emerged from further combinations and the audience bayed "love you, David" long and loud. Not a bad way to end an evening.

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