LIVE: Wishbone Ash @ the Van Dyck, 9/25/15 (Second Show)
Review by Steven Stock
Nearly 45 years have passed since Wishbone Ash released their eponymous debut album, but the band’s latest incarnation had no trouble asserting their relevance and enduring appeal at the Van Dyck in Schenectady’s Stockade district last Friday.
Guitarist, lead singer and archivist (his memoir “Eyes Wide Open: True Tales of a Wishbone Ash Warrior” is due October 20) Andy Powell is the only original member still touring, but the current quartet has been together for eight years – twice as long as the band’s seminal early-’70s line-up. While bassist Bob Skeat and drummer Joe Crabtree navigated tricky time changes without even a furrowed brow, Wishbone Ash’s music has always been dominated by a twin-guitar attack. Powell rather resembles an avuncular high school science teacher, while fellow axe-slinger Jyrki “Muddy” Manninen is a Scandinavian Rock God straight out of central casting. The unlikely-looking duo complemented each other musically as well as visually, each obviously delighted and inspired by the other’s playing.
The quartet opened their second show of the evening with a couple of appealing tracks from 2014’s Blue Horizon, “Deep Blues” and the title track, before delving into the classic oldies that the graying-but-enthusiastic audience clamored for, drawn largely from the band’s first three records.
Those albums – Wishbone Ash, Pilgrimage and especially the still-stunning Argus – start with a solid blues-boogie foundation, add folk, jazz and progressive influences, then top it all off with mystical sword-and-sorcery lyrics. On paper it may not sound particularly enticing, but on record – and at the Van Dyck – it resulted in music every bit as ambitious and intriguing as Led Zeppelin III.
In fact, Argus climbed all the way to the third spot on British LP charts in 1972, and was subsequently named best album of the year in both Sounds and Melody Maker’s year-end readers’ polls. No surprise then that three key Argus tracks were artfully interspersed throughout the show.
“The King Will Come” is a biblical epic about the Second Coming that provided both guitarists plenty of solo space, Manninen attacking his Les Paul while Powell coaxed stinging lead runs from his trademark Gibson Flying V (a guitar he was compelled to pick up after seeing photos of blues legend Albert King in action). “Leaf and Stream” served to demonstrate the band’s pastoral, folk-inflected side, inspired in part by Powell’s longtime affection for Fairport Convention and Pentangle. Finally “Blowin’ Free” closed the short-but-satisfying performance. Dreamy lyrics about a Swedish ex-girlfriend (when asked for certain favors, she slyly replied “you can only try,” thus providing the song’s refrain) were underscored by some dazzling double-time fretwork from Powell.
Other highlights of the show included “Way Down South” from the new album, the title track from 1977’s Front Page News, and a delicious one-two punch from Wishbone Ash, “Phoenix” and “Lady Whiskey.” An excellent show, and it served to whet expectations for the forthcoming memoir. Powell has seen a lot in 45 years: Wishbone Ash was the first band managed by a fledgling Miles Copeland, they often toured in support of The Who, their 1974 effort There’s The Rub was produced by Bill Szymczyk (whose next album was a little trifle called Hotel California), line-up changes, a move to Connecticut, label hassles, legal battles and assorted whack jobs… It promises to be one hell of a book!