When Guitars Sing
A band, a location, and yearly tradition: in the course of their XLIX-Tour and 50th anniversary, Wishbone Ash played Vienna’s Reigen once again. A concert comparison.
»Good evening! Raise your hands, are you feeling good tonight?« are the words with which frontman Andy Powell greets the audience as Wishbone Ash march onto stage at 20.30 sharp. Powell (guitar, vocals) is the only remaining founding member and 50 years active this year. The other musicians Bob Skeat (bass), Joe Crabtree (drums), and Mark Abrahams (guitar) have joined the band at different points over time. Compared to the gig on February 11th, 2016, at which I saw the band last, the formation only changed guitar-wise from Muddy Manninen to Mark Abrahams.
A lot of back then is also visible tonight: the perfectly chosen location, that offers not only a relaxed ambience and lots of space, but also a very good sound quality; the respectful, elderly audience; the few die hard fans, whose thumbs are up during almost the entire show; the singer’s sunglasses; the bassist’s familiar smile, paired with the twitching left corner of his mouth when playing dynamic passages. The setlist, too, intersects with songs like »Deep Blues,« »Blowin‘ Free,« »Throw Down the Sword,« »Warrior,« »Front Page News,« »Phoenix,« or »Sometime World.« Again, however, the band choses not to play »Helpless,« one of my favourites, to be found on »Live Dates 2.«
The extra mile
As usual, the musicians‘ performance cannot be complained about – it is even better than in 2016. Crabtree uses more power, Abrahams fits in splendidly, probably even better than Manninen and »is given a lot more responsibility, than the last time«, as fans tell about the 2018 concert. Powell has to warm up his pipes a bit, but then makes sure to give you goosebumps once he unleashes his full vocal capacity.
The trained stage moves are presented with a little irony, but not at all ridiculous: Wishbone Ash perform them with authenticity, and that this band can look back upon fifty years confirms their relevance and the fact that they do not have to prove themselves any more, but age in dignity. After the show I ask bassist Bob Skeat personally: What feels different with this tour? »We are going the extra mile, and we can feel it reciprocating from the audience. It’s a milestone. I’ve done it for twenty-one years, Andy is doing it every day, so of course it is very special to him. There is a nice vibe going on and we are planning bigger productions over the next months.«
»But you’re so young?«
This time, too, most fans are surprised about the few younger people in the audience. It is indeed a mystery why Wishbone Ash does not ring a bell with the younger generations – when one can easily compare their technical precision, professionality and melodic finesse to Pink Floyd’s, for example. They probably just aren’t that commerical, even though they were quite famous in the 1970s and 80s. It’s not for nothing that almost any rock band – Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden being only two among them – lists Wishbone Ash as one of their role models and sources of inspiration.
We are speaking of a band which, at the end of the day, has never been given the fame it actually deserves. Thus, the unavoidable question is: Why are Wishbone Ash only for firmly rooted rock fans, when the music (albeit experimental) is neither incomprehensible nor inaccessible, but functions via exuberant melody as ist highest value. Possibly, no other band understands so well how to make their guitars sing like Wishbone Ash do. And that alone is something any listener is potentially able to connect to.
Author: Robin Frank
Read the German version of this article on skug.at