Tracy and I arrived about half an hour after the doors opened to a fairly empty hall. I was a bit surprised how few people were milling around, the previous show having been a sellout. John Young came over for a chat and told me that only 100 tickets had been sold in advance. Things looked a little bleak at this point. I pointed out that, even if only 100 tickets had been sold it was more than most bands pulled in this venue, the bands that I see there anyway. One band, no names, were unfortunate enough to only draw 30 or so punters - though having their name misspelled on all the advertising material probably didn’t help. Qango were due on at around 21:15 so John disappeared to ready himself and we took advantage of some space near the front of stage to position ourselves between the speakers, remembering the distorted sound from the last show. The hall had filled up a bit by 21:00 and upstairs had people standing all round the balcony, awaiting the evenings entertainment. I nipped to the toilet just after nine and returned to a much fuller hall. I guess there were almost 200 people in the venue by the time the band finally appeared on stage at 21:25.
There are no overblown intro tapes or big entrances with these guys, just a perfunctory “How you doing” form John Wetton as they donned instruments as John Young began the brief excerpt of Fanfare. Carl then counted the band into the first song, Asia’s Time Again. Dave Kilminster is not a man to hang around when there is a crowd to impress, his guitarwork soaring almost from the first note. John Wetton’s voice has held up and is as good, if not better, than the previous evening. It’s a shame for those folk who only made it to the Liverpool show, the only one which suffered vocal problems.
A bit of bass retuning before Carl again counts everyone into the second Asia track of the night, Sole Survivor. It’s a powerful version, the band thundering through the track, Dave in particular again giving his all hands everywhere up and down the neck of his plain, solid, stratocopy guitar. During this track the old Yardbirds track ‘Over, Under, Sideways, Down’ crept to mind, not musically, but as a description of Dave’s hands and playing. The fact that there is a similarity to a young Jimmy Page when his hair drops over his face strengthens the association. Most guitarists keep this sort of thing for the flashy part of their solos but Dave manages to fit it in anywhere. Amazing.
It’s ... Monty Python time again as Wetton gives his usual “and now for something completely different” introduction to Bitches Crystal. John Young now has his first real opportunity to shine, handling the tricky introduction to this track masterfully and providing an all-too-brief solo during the track. He has his work cut out competing against Dave though when he alternates his neck hand playing below, then above, then below ... etc. Tonight John Wetton spotted the trick and joined him, echoing the maneuver on his bass. They are obviously having a fun time tonight with some end-of-tour hi jinks. I’d wondered why Bitches Crystal was the only vocal ELP track chosen by Qango until I found an ELP tribute compilation on which he handles vocals on this very song. Mystery solved.
Carl’s turn to take the microphone now telling us how “it’s great to be back at the Brook”. He seems generally to be at ease the whole night, at least the venue is cooler than the Herringthorpe leisure Centre was. He continued by jokingly asking “see if you can put some more top on that mic - as if my voice isn’t high enough already!” before introducing the demon guitarist Dave Kilminster and his solo. The way this guy generally plays you would think that a solo was pointless, he manages more during some tracks than many do in their solo spots, but he manages to be a little different in that he swaps over to acoustic guitar for this spot. He began his solo to a shout from one of the audience (one of his Guitar magazine feature readers possibly) “Number one superguy”. I guess you could say that the audience are n his side tonight! Early in the solo he adjusted the snare drum to (I think) reverberate in sympathy to his chords. If it was to reduce the reverb then he failed miserably as the drum continued the rattle during all the quiet solo sections of the evening. It made for an interesting solo though.
John Wetton waited in the background, acoustic guitar at the ready, until the final ‘pick’ of Dave’s solo, when he moved forward to introduce the next song, The Smile Has Left Your Eyes, as “here’s a tear jerker”. In this acoustic duet mode, musically cut to a minimal, Wetton's voice took on a delicate tone, though still increasing the power for the choruses. Only a couple of minor lyrical fluffs interrupted the mood of the track. I’m not sure if the lighting during this track was the same at each show, this being the first time I’d noticed, but the pair were bathed in red light for the duration of the song.
Carl returned and introduced us, once again, to “Dave Kilminster” before Wetton explained a bit about the next song, the only cover version of the evening. “A song by Bob Dylan... about I don’t know what. It was taken from an album ...” and so it went on and I’m afraid I lost the plot a bit as he explained how the track was inspired by someone I’d never heard of. (Maybe I should learn shorthand so I can keep up with the long introductions.) Anyway, the track was All Along the Watchtower and it was acoustic for about the first half, Palmer joining the acoustic frontmen from the start, John Young returning about half way through and taking the lead for most of the remainder of the song. The acoustic guitars added depth to this very laid-back song, Palmer restraining himself keeping only a pretty simple repetitive drum/cymbal beat going. Wetton’s voice was at it’s best now, powerfully sweeping round the hall during the chorus and steeped in a large amount of echo. As the climax neared the acoustics came to the fore, keyboards diminishing, and Carl brought out a large tambourine before finishing on the drums - with his hands. The final keyboard chord was held for a few seconds until everybody has swapped back to electric instruments before segueing into the introduction to the only Wetton solo song of the show, Battle Lines. The echo of the previous song lingers on, though in a reduced manner, though I found it to be too much during the “behind the Battle Lines” section - distracting from the music and lyrics. The lighting, by comparison, was very good, coming solely from the rear initially which left the bands faces almost lost in shadow, the front lighting being increased during the “days of innocence” section. It all made for a memorable track, which ended with a padded stick drum roll, in the manner of a marching band.
“A new one, not for you, you’ve heard it before, called Walking on Air” remembered Wetton as someone at the front of the stage had a quick look at the setlist. John spotted the sneak, jokingly positioning his foot over the piece of paper, a smile upon his face. The meaty track allowed John to play some heavy bass which impressed the audience, some of them possibly even knowing the words after their two listens, they being that easy to pick up. Afterwards, John told us “that one will be on the studio CD - available very soon, but not in your highstreet shops!” I guess this was a veiled comment as to the current state of the music business. It was a surprise to be told the CD would be available soon as I don’t think any work has been carried out on it other than the two Johns playing ideas to each other. I could, of course, be wrong though. He went on to mention how the front row of the audience “look like the KGB” due, I believe, to the profusion of cameras there.
Carl took over with the introductions announcing John Young’s solo with “here we go, John Young on keyboards”. Before he began John he said “evening everyone”, many of the audience replying “evening John” having seen him in many of the local venues in which he hones his solo art. He went on to comment “I wish I could get this many for my solo gigs at Talking Heads” before giving the usual warning that he “may need some audience participation for part of the solo”. I imagine he was pleased tonight as, come ‘that part’ the audience were very much on the ball clapping along happily, requiring no prompting to join in. With that section over everyone watched quietly as John moved through to the ‘evil’ section then on to the classically inspired section, familiar from his solo shows. They all gave a rowdy cheer at the climax of the solo, showing their appreciation for an accomplished player.
As the others don instruments and check setlists John commented “This old thing” before Wetton introduced Only Time Will Tell as “a blast from the past”. The harmonies are strong in this number, carrying the end chorus of “only time will tell” with no accompaniment except for themselves and the audience clapping along, instruments only returning for the “oh, Oh, oh” finale.
No introduction for the following track, just Dave and John Young charging into a riotous version of Aaron Copeland (oh, and ELP’s) Hoedown. This really is the instrumental highlight of the show tonight, Dave and John each trying to outdo the other with some amazing longer runs . I don’t think either of them won the contest, each managing to parry the others attack. John was enjoying himself so much that during one of Dave’s runs he attempted a brief Hoedown demonstration, not an easy feat whilst trying to plan your retaliatory run. spirits were high and the audience were impressed. John Wetton back introduced the song as “the inbreeding song” though spared us the two related Arkansas jokes Tracy told him after the Rotherham show.
“Do you want another one?” he continued, before telling us that “it’s looking less like the KGB down there now!” and telling us twice that Last One Home “is a new one”. During the lapping, calm introduction Dave made a couple of obvious duff notes, mouthing a quiet ”come on” to himself in acknowledgement of the fact. Having regained his concentration he had time later in the track to help Carl with the percussion, bashing the cymbal a few times between guitar runs. During the tracks finale Dave raised the guitar to his face and added an unexpected, and extremely short, ‘teeth’ section just before the climax of the long end run. Following that a long “last one home” harmony vocal section finished the song to loud applause. With these two new tracks the studio Cd has great potential, they just need to get on and record it!
As the introductions are made for Fanfare for the Common Man Carl took the opportunity to towel himself down in readiness for the forthcoming attack on his kit. Wetton noticed this and mentioned that “Carl’s hot - he’ll be hotter in a minute!” Carl thumped his sticks together three or four times above his head before leading the others into an aggressive version of Fanfare. John Young played a very Emerson inspired section of ‘jangling’ keyboards again jousting with Dave throughout the track. Having used his teeth already Dave extended the second salvo (though not necessarily using his teeth) much more than at any of the previous shows, smiling broadly afterwards as he waited to see how John would counter it. He managed with some wild playing himself before the music stopped and Carl took over with his drum solo. This too was extended more than the previous evenings, Carl obviously enjoying himself, smiling through most of the solo. His tambourine came out for only the second time during the solo on this tour, even rubbing his wet thumb around it’s circumference as he’d done at every show on the first tour. Maybe it was “good to be back in the Brook” after all. Before the finale he paused for an extended moment, concentrating hard, though still smiling and laughing, on the light and fast drum roll. It built into a structured bash around the whole of his kit which marked the return of the others for a brief reprise of Fanfare Dave counting them in with his fingers: 1, 2, 3 play, before departing the stage.
They were only away for a minute or so before the crowd called them back for more, one wag in the audience shouting “we’d almost gone home” as they picked up their guitars. John obviously missed the comment as he replied “sorry, missed that” but a repeat was not forthcoming so they blasted out Heat of the Moment. Again, there was echo added to Wetton's voice, not really needed when there are two such good harmony singers in the band. It was a powerful end to the set and, as usual, it was the end, no matter how long and loud the crowd cheered.
So, that was it. Just under a 95 minute set to end the tour. Seven gigs in seven days - and a rather varied set of shows they had been. Liscombe Park started off with Wetton’s voice in poor form, the band obviously nervous with little rehearsal beforehand. The Robin 2 showed a marked improvement, Wetton’s voice in particular, having improved overnight, as had the nerves. Bridgend continued the improvement before the hot Rotherham venue began to affect the voice, almost disappearing for the Liverpool show. The one benefit there was that it allowed John Young to sing his composition, Last one Home. Spirits, and voices, were back up the following evening in Croydon for a decent theatre show and topped by tonight's amiable performance.
I can’t wait ‘til we do it all again. Excellent.
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