A Friday evening in ‘the smoke’ for this newest of new bands – QANGO. For reasons as yet undisclosed, Mr So and So’s keyboard player was not able to take part in the live dates and was replaced by Wetton stalwart, John Young. JY had just seven days rehearsal to learn most of the set, including a couple of complex ELP keyboard parts. For the quality of the resulting live performance he must be applauded.
For the first time on the tourthere is a support band - Melbourne - though I missed almost all of their set. The reports I heard were not that favourable - but the little I heard sounded fine. John Young was keen to see part of their set as he was interested in their keyboard set-up - perhaps with a view to purchasing the same sort of keyboards that they used. This comment would become all the more pertinent later on in the evening.
An earlier than expected start of the set (due to the Astoria’s curfew) the band has to pay extra for overrunning their allotted time at the weekend as after shows the venue becomes a Rock club.
No backing tapes
to introduce this band, they just saunter on stage and ready their
instruments before John Young introduces the set with the first blast
of Fanfare (the Common Man one) which led directly into powerful
versions of a couple of classic Asia tracks, Time Again and
Sole Survivor. John Wetton’s voice really soared during these
tracks – and they are much more powerful that the original LP versions.
It’s nice to see JW playing bass again – he seems to have mainly played
acoustic guitars for his solo shows recently. The power of the bass
playing is all the more pleasing considering the original dates were
postponed for John to have a wrist operation. Obviously the
operation was a success and John seems to be playing as well as ever.
It’s interesting to note that these two opening tracks are the same as those which open Asia's “Live in Moscow” CD, a promo version of which was available from the merchandise table after the show. Obviously Wetton and Palmer see them as being two storming tracks with which to open a show and attract the audiences attention away from the bar. Not that there was much need for this tonight - this audience was here to see the band, not drink at the bar.
Between these opening numbers John Wetton has just time to ask how we’re doing before Carl Palmer cracks his drum sticks together to lead into Sole Survivor. After this track, Dave Kilminster is formally introduced to us, "It's good to have a nice shred now and again" comments Wetton, before Carl takes the mike to say hello and take us into the first ELP track of the evening, Bitches Crystal. Before the track is played a Wetton fan shouted for ‘Starless’, a forlorn hope as it turned out - no pre Asia Wetton material was aired this evening.
John Young begins the track with a swinging barrelhouse intro before launching into the main piece. This track is an extremely complex keyboard track – and probably the one JY was most worried about performing. During the mid section of the track John shows us a touch of his ‘mad professor’ with some wild keyboard work with Carl pounding away in the background, almost duelling with each other in places. This was indeed a band enjoying itself. John needn’t have fretted though – the audience gave a massive cheer as this one was introduced – possibly even louder than for the Asia material - and were attentive throughout. This tour marks the first performances of the track to a UK audience – though ELP have played it on their last two world tours (both of which seem to have ‘forgotten’ the UK)! John Young had a large smile on his face during the applause after the track – relief mixed satisfaction of a job well done and appreciation of the audience reaction. Interestingly, this is the only ELP tune played which has lyrics, the others being instrumentals. Not necessarily anything strange in this – unless JW was worried about remembering lyrics to songs he’d not written. I did notice that there were a couple of sheets of paper on the monitors in addition to the setlist – could they have been lyric sheets? If so, this makes John Young’s learning task all the more impressive (though he too had a few aide-memoir sheets handy).
Wetton asks us “How’s about that then” in his best Jimmy Saville impression
while Carl tells us “it’s time to meet Dave Kilminster on guitar”,
followed by asking the crowd “is that the best you can do” when their
cheer is muted. He finishes off by explaining that the solo will move
into a piece with John (Wetton) which we’ll recognise when it comes!”
Another brooding track followed, Carl leading us into it before Wetton adds some ominous bass, Kilminster augmenting in the same style in a long, slow, atmospheric build-up. The track is not introduced and must have left a lot of the audience guessing as to it’s origin, was it new or old? Walking on Air is a previously unreleased John Wetton solo track which has it's origin back in his Asia days. Old it may be, but it’s never been performed before this tour (as far as I know) and , despite this, really holds the audience attention. This will be one track that will stand out on any studio album the guys decide to release. If they miss it off the potential live CD from the previous evening they’ll be doing themselves a great disfavour. The lyrical content of the song seems slightly at odds with the music, seeming to be about life becoming good again as someone new walks into your life, lifting you from depression. The track ended with Carl crashing away at his cymbals.
Ode to Joy. (as it’s noted on the onstage setlist) is John Young's opportunity to shine, his keyboard solo. It’s a compilation of sections used during a solo featured on the Wetton CD ‘Live in Tokyo 1997’. The piece spreads through classical pieces, an audience clap-along section, some keyboard bashing, Emerson style, work, before venturing forwards through a Jaws-style introduction to a Keystone Cops sequence before settling into material from John's solo shows. The solo climaxes with Beethoven's Ode to Joy.
After the applause
has died down some wag in the audience shouts to John, “Get your hair
cut” to which Carl agrees, “Yes, get your hair cut, let us see your
face. Have one of these haircuts”, pointing to his short barnet. “I’ll
do it for you tonight, come round my house”. Carl is on form tonight
as, when someone heckles from the crowd, he retorts, “You couldn’t
have one, you don’t have enough for one!” The classic quote of the
evening has to be his next comment however, “No rugs and no plugs
in this band”, “Yet” says the hairy Mr. Young.
“Some of you
might know this, it’s kind of an old song or a new song, depending.
So over to you Carl” is how we are introduced to Last One Home.
This is an Asia track written when John Young was in Asia in 1989.
It’s also the only song of the set that appears on John Young's solo
CD, 'Life Underground'.
John Wetton introduces Carl as "Here's the man who makes coffee nervous" before John Young runs through a full version of Fanfare of the Common Man, another ELP instrumental. Wetton provides some suitably 'fuzzy' bass work whilst Dave again takes the lead lines on guitar. It works better on this track than it did on Hoedown, possibly as the original Fanfare shied away from that Hammond sound. John Young takes over for what was the solo section of the original, again providing some suitably outlandish keyboards for an Emerson track. Again, Kilminster and Young, follow the Blackmore/Lord school of guitar/keyboard 'follow that run' instrumentals, each trying to catch the other out. The other musicians leave the stage to allow a Carl Palmer drum solo. This is more a percussion solo as he makes full use of all the cymbals, hi-hats and even a tambourine at one point. It's not even a straight 'hit them fast' solo as Carl changes tempo fairly frequently. The band return for a reprise of Fanfare for the Common Man. Just after the music restarts a short-haired bloke in a black T-shirt walked across the stage toward the keyboards. I initially wondered what was wrong with them until I realised this was no roadie out to fix a problem, it was Keith Emerson, formerly of ELP. He performed a keyboard duet with John Young, where they alternate keyboard runs. While John tries to keep to the tune, Emerson stands behind him (Behave) and plays some rather discordant notes around Young's body. This duet/duet continued for around 5 minutes, both Emerson and Young obviously enjoying themselves whilst thrashing away at the keyboard. At one point Keith tries to quieten Carl down, though he doesn't spot the signal and keeps banging away the beat until Emerson goes up and shouts in his ear. Though not musically excellent (rather cacophonous once the bass and drums kick back in), the excitement and skill of the performance held the audience in trance, savouring this meeting of the keyboard maestro's.
Once Emerson had vacated the stage and the cheers had subsided, the band went straight into Heat of the Moment, a surprise as it's usually the first encore. The reason for this is that the Astoria 2 has a curfew and if a band play past it they have to pay hard cash as recompense. This is also the reason for the swift return after a break for the single encore this evening, Don't Cry. It's fitting, I guess, that this final track was their highest charting single way back in late summer of 1983 - and a great track to end on. The band left the stage with the crowd howling for more. Even as the lights rose they continued calling - a mark of how much the audience had enjoyed the show.
Tonight was an amazing evening, especially with the addition of the keyboard guest. The band were enjoying themselves and the audience had a great time with an nice variety of oldies recycled and upgraded and the benefit of a couple of ‘newies’ to whet the appetite for the future. Considering this line-up had only seven days rehearsal before their first gig three days previously, they carried off a brilliant show – with only a few minor ‘mistakes’ (care of Carl’s poor eyesight) to break the flow.
The cheers for ELP tunes, as well as for Carl and Keith, shows how much the ELP material is loved by people in this country. It’s just a pity that they couldn’t be bothered to tour this country, or even play a couple of dates, for the last eight years between European dates.
The excellent performance and, especially the guest appearance of Keith Emerson, has to make this show the highlight of the tour. I'm sure that John Young would agree, even if Keith did break 3 of the keys!
With the cheer Emerson received when walking on stage I wondered what would happen if he was asked to join the band. Would they keep the QANGO moniker – or would they revert to an ELP–style name – PEWK!
I can just see the review headlines now…
In one of those odd links life brings it would seem that the idea of playing ELP songs with added guitar sparked an idea in the mind of Keith Emerson as two years later The Nice reformed for three tunes as part of the launch for his Emerson Plays Emerson album. There he used the talents of guitarist Phil Hilbourne but when a short UK tour was arranged for October 2002 Dave Kilminster became the guitarist of choice. In fact, had he not been on tour with Ken Hensley at the time Dave would, I'm sure, have been onstage at the 100 Club show. Find out more here.