Playing comfortably, but not safe, symphonic rockers rise from the ashes and fly high.
1973 was a special year for RENAISSANCE for it was then that the band’s classic line-up solidified, yet it also marked the first time when the group didn’t follow their latest album with a tour – for economic reasons. Instead, they opted for a one-off performance in a recording studio at Wembley for a small audience, which resulted in this unique document taped from soundboard and having been on a bootleg circuit for years in inferior quality. More so, it resulted in much tighter, than on-stage, performance, with the accent on the instrumental interplay rather then Annie Haslam‘s soaring voice.
Fantastic as ever, the singer sends a crystal note to the sky in “Ashes Are Burning” – the symphonic-to-jazz title epic from the then-recently released LP, embellished here with Al Stewart’s backing and Andy Powell‘s highly charged bluesy solo – but it’s Terry Sullivan‘s drums and Jon Camp’s bass that build a solid foundation at the bottom end of the ensemble work. The stunning dynamics are at play from the opening salvo of “Can You Understand” to the last effusive chords of “Prologue” whose heart marries samba to baroque dance, and relent only on a new song “At The Harbour,” where ethereal organ and Michael Dunford’s gentle acoustic picking provide a safety net for an otherwise a cappella delivery. This piece, together with “Sounds Of The Sea” from the previous album, which saw the second advent of RENAISSANCE, would soon be dropped from the group’s set yet swells delicately for a while, floating on John Tout’s piano.
Just as innocent, the largely acoustic “Let It Grow” demonstrates the band’s handling of intricate vocal polyphony, while “Carpet Of The Sun” is, for all its romanticism, dappled with experience, one to carry the quintet through their orchestra-shrouded ’70s. No such strings attached yet, it’s the beginning of the band’s song for all seasons.