Uncut OCTOBER 2021 - by Wyndham Wallace


The Eno brothers make their much anticipated live debut on the slopes of the Acropolis

"Tonight," Roger Eno announces, settling in behind his piano for this historic show, "Brian and I are playing to the gods." His comment is understandable: the stage onto which they've walked was originally built in AD 161 on the slopes of Athens' Acropolis; restored in the 1950s using Pentelic marble, this stunning open-air theatre overlooking the Greek capital lends events a solemnity that audience and performer alike can not disregard. As the flagship venue for the Athens Epidaurus Festival, the 'Herodeon' has previously hosted the likes of Maria Callas and Frank Sinatra. Tonight, modern-day Greek hero Yanis Varoufakis is in the front row.

It's an auspicious setting for the Eno brothers' joint live debut, following the release last year of their first fully collaborative album. Mixing Colours. It's also the first time all but one of tonight's pieces has been performed live anywhere. Yet both of them seem remarkably calm, displaying with discreet nods and smiles a jovial, fraternal camaraderie emphasised by Brian's white beard and Roger's red trousers, a combination that suggests they've raided Papa Smurfs wardrobe.

They begin with music from Mixing Colours, originally unveiled around the time the world locked down.

They'd worked on it in isolation over some fifteen years, with Roger sending his brother MIDI files over which Brian then sprinkled his magic dust. The process eerily foreshadowed the way most people would be forced to collaborate these past eighteen months, immediately granting the deceptively humble tunes a rare poignancy. As Roger acknowledged during their pre-show press conference, "People were using [the album] as a form of medicine." If hearing these compositions outdoors before a crowd is therefore initially disconcerting, it's also redemptive, acting as reward for all we've endured.

Live, their simplicity is highlighted by Brian's measured tweaks of Roger's romantic but often skeletal piano work. Wintergreen inherits a crystalline, prismatic quality, Ultramarine takes on a mildly sinister edge, Snow sounds like the instrument's strings have been damped with digital felt, while Iris's trembling sustain slowly adopts a bell-like clarity and Blonde recalls Brian's crucial work on the late Harold Budd's The Pearl. Best of all is Celeste, so popular it's had almost three-and-a-half million streams since it appeared. It might be cloying, were it not so disarmingly pretty.

But tonight's show is about more than Mixing Colours. Joining the Enos - and Brian's regular associate, Peter Chilvers, who until now has sat observing proceedings to his right - is Roger's daughter, Cecily, who on spellbinding new song Genre Oriental delivers an eerie, almost wordless vocal over serene piano accompaniment Afterwards, another long-term associate, Leo Abrahams, completes the lineup, adding swathes of ambient guitar to two more previously unfamiliar numbers, A Place We Once Walked and There Were Bells. By the latter, it's clear Brian's enjoying himself: he stands up behind his workstation to sing, introducing the song with a mysterious joke about urine samples. Roger meanwhile straps on an accordion and, with umber lighting painting primitive patterns across the stage's crumbling back wall, the group gradually construct avast, dreamlike sound entirely appropriate for the land that gave us Pythagoras's music of the spheres.

Another new track, My Garden Of Stars, is even more intense. Brian's vocal is treated so it sounds like electronic Gregorian chanting - "These billion years will end", he warns us - while Chilvers, Abrahams and Cecily Eno direct its introductory distorted rumbling towards a noisy climax suggestive of 2016's The Ship, were it reworked by Godspeed You! Black Emperor. Pointing to a folder of lyrics, Brian then admits, "The songs we're doing are either so old I can't remember the words, or so new I can't remember them!" To the audience's uncontained joy, he swiftly breaks into Before And After Science's By This River and Julie With.... Both prove deliriously graceful, Brian's tremulous voice at times enhanced by Cecily's sweet backing vocals, not to mention her acoustic guitar, which joins Abrahams' delicate electric guitar flourishes and Chilvers' understated keyboard parts. Two more deep cuts round things up triumphantly: Another Green World's Everything Merges With The Night brings out Brian's repressed crooner and Abraham's inner Fripp, while a lush And Then So Clear - from 2005's Another Day On Earth - provokes Roger to dance behind his piano in delight. "That's my bro!" Brian announces proudly.

A short encore offers two more exclusives: Roger's folkish ballad There Was A Ship, on which his daughter shines; and finally Brian's What A World, which eschews the celebratory spirit one might have anticipated from a closing number. "Last night, as we were rehearsing, ash was falling on my table," he reveals, referring to wildfires currently raging on the city's outskirts. "Here we are, at the birthplace of civilisation, watching the end of it." With Roger reunited with his accordion and the stage bathed in reds and greens painting antique graffiti, the quintet sends us off with an unexpectedly sobering sense of regret "What a world it could have been", Brian sings over and over again, reminding us that, while the pandemic seems to be nearing its close, a far greater crisis is approaching its peak. Were the gods listening, they couldn't help but be moved.