This Robin is situated directly opposite the Police station so I guess there’s not usually much trouble in the place. Tonight there was no trouble at all, just 180 (on a venue with a capacity of 250-300 ?) folk enjoying the music. The hall itself is smaller than the Robin 1, still long and this but with an angled roof, a 3 ½ foot high stage with a standing are in front of it and a raised area (1 ½ feet) with tables and standing room behind. This allowed people to stand over a greater area and not crush up at the front. I thought the turnout was disappointing considering that the Robin 1 show had sold out (and held 500 ? people) but I suppose the timing of the tour could have been better. The week between the Easter and May Day Bank holidays meant that a lot of people were probably away on holiday with their kids who would be out from school. Also, from what Chris, a friendly local who kept a great seat for me, said, most of the local factories close down for the week too – more people away on holiday. It didn’t prevent the band from giving a much more relaxed and fluid performance than the previous evening, both sound and performance having improved dramatically.
There were a few far-travelling folk at this show, at least one each from America and Australia, though no Japanese contingent this time.
As everyone else picked up instruments, early bird Dave Kilminster said a cheery "Good evening. How're you doing" to the crowd before John Young's introductory excerpt of Fanfare gave way swiftly to a double dose of classic Asia tunes. The others joined in after the Fanfare for Time Again, John Wetton's voice seeming to have recovered dramatically from the previous evening's performance. The whole band seemed to gel more tonight too, though still a little rough around the edges in places. With a less than capacity crowd the sound was a bit echoey to begin with, though my ears soon compensated for the acoustics - or was it just the sound mixer compensating for the differences in the hall from empty to full. Time only for a quick "Thank you, Ta" from John Wetton before Carl Palmer counted in to Sole Survivor. The improvement in Wettons voice was highlighted during the long, extended "… eeeend" and " … Soooole" sections of the track.
John Wetton introduced the next track with, “Two Asia songs and now for something completely different”. Not different as in Liberty Bell or Monty Python, but a different source band certainly, ELP instead of ASIA! Different too in that it had an intricate keyboard introduction, care of John Young, which expanded into Bitches Crystal. I think John Wetton dropped a few words during the early part of the track, though the vocal echo used during the song may just have masked them. The echo was especially noticeable during the "… in your eyes" section, just before John Young had his first proper chance to impress the only marginally enthusiastic crowd. The whole band seemed much happier tonight, Carl even joking with the crowd (though not entirely successfully sometimes). Perhaps he felt comfortable in front of this almost 'home' crowd.
The band left the stage, except for Dave - who changed over to acoustic guitar as Carl told us "It's warm up here, I can tell you" and that "I'm enjoying it". He then enquired "Is there anyone in? We can all join hands and contact the dead", commenting, I guess, on the lack of numbers and enthusiasm shown so far. He went on to introduce Dave Kilminster's Guitar solo before following the others offstage. Dave made one obvious blunder early on in the Pictures at an Exhibition part of the solo, smiling in acknowledgement of the fact. There was a long harmonic section to tonight's solo before he threw himself into the quick, flashy stuff, impressing most of the audience with his dexterity.
As the solo drew to a close John Wetton
returned to the stage, donned an acoustic guitar and began a duet version
of The Smile Has Left Your Eyes. This track really showed the difference
in his voice from Liscombe Park, really soaring during the minimalistic
arrangement of this acoustic track. The crowd responded with a big cheer
as Carl rejoined them, surprising Wetton with a "John Wetton, Yes, Yes",
who replied with a (mock?) startled "Who was that masked man?" Continuing
in the acoustic vein, at least until Young returned part way through the
track, was a gentle version of Bob Dylan's All Along the Watchtower,
the vocals augmented with a touch of subtle echo. John Young merged the
end of this track with the introduction to the Wetton solo track Battle
Lines which again featured some heavy echo effects on Wettons voice.
The acoustic guitars are replaced with electric bass and guitar for the
remainder of the set from this track. A subtle section and padded stick
drum roll brought the emotional track to a quiet close.
As Carl introduced Paddydog, John Young’s keyboard solo, some wag in the audience shouted “Come on Carl, give it a bash”. Young was quick to reply “that comes later” before warning the crowd that the second part of the keyboard solo would require some audience participation. The crowd showed no inclination to join in at the expected point so John stopped the solo to prompt them. Once they got going they gave a rather half-hearted attempt at clapping, not quite what John had hoped for.
As the Dave and John adjusted their guitars Carl asked the audience if they had “any requests?” The reply was, I would bet, not what he expected: “We are the Mods” and “Peggy Sue” being two of those I caught. When they finally did begin playing it was another ASIA tune, Only Time Will Tell, though again the crowd had to be drawn into audience participation, Wetton having to lead the clapping with a prompt of “come on” to the reticent fans. Thankfully Dave showed a lot more animation, moving about quite a bit and adding some swift runs. Mr. Young was still occasionally checking his notation, this time between the harmony vocals.
John Young is keen to get started on this second ELP number, Hoedown, cutting Wettons introduction off. Wetton is feeling the heat by this point, wiping sweat from his forehead. The crowd may be less than capacity but they are hot for it, especially during this track where they seemed to become more animated.
The audience have woken up now, one of them calling Carl to “come on down” to which Wetton acknowledged, “you do the set then!” Thankfully they quieted down for the slow, quiet and atmospheric introductory section of Last One Home. John Wetton's voice gave a particularly soulful and heartfelt rendition of the track, again classed as a new track! The mid section featured a particularly powerful instrumental section from all concerned in the middle of the track, Dave Kilminster, in particular, impressing. John Young was impressed as after they finished he said, “Dave Kilminster You don’t get many of those to the pound!”
Wetton introduced the big finale (for the main set at any rate) with “Time for Carl to beat his skins” as they launched into Fanfare for the Common Man. The early part of it was spoilt by some ‘farty’ feedback from Wetton’s bass radio transmitter. John Young, standing in front of the bass cab, made the most of the opportunity by wafting the imaginary odour away. Kilminster and Young kept good eye contact as they spilt Emerson's runs between them, each trying to catch the other out. Dave even played the guitar with his teeth during the finale, before Carl Palmer took over with his drum solo. Probably the loudest cheer of the evening was at the beginning of the solo - obviously there were a lot of ELP fans in tonight. I’m not sure if the solo was shorter on this tour but Carl certainly cut the tambourine part out of the solo on the first few dates of this tour, though most of the rest was as the previous tour, hitting everything in sight at the climax of the solo. The others returned as Carl finisher giving a brief reprise of Fanfare in which Carl suddenly slumped over the drums, taking the band by surprise. They all looked round to see what had happened as Carl leapt back to life, smiling.
After a brief departure from the stage the foursome returned, Wetton looking particularly happy with himself, hands firmly in pocket before picking up his bass for Heat of the Moment. His hands were definitely out of the pockets for the arms outstretched impression of a “dragons wings” during the track. The set finished there, clocking in at a minute or so less than 90 minutes, with no second encore. The crowd were both surprised (despite their reticence to join in for most of the show) and disappointed when a roadie picked up a guitar case from the monitors and began packing away.
A good show for the first proper night of the tour, though a disappointing audience reaction in the main. I gather that was the reason for the lack of a second encore - a lot of cheering after the main set had finished not showing the band enough appreciation for them to feel Don’t Cry was warranted. I tried to warn potential audiences of this via the Wetton website email list but you can read the following reviews to find out what happened on the rest of the dates.
If you have any comments about this page then please contact me.