If there’s a resurgence of interest in classic rock bands such as URIAH HEEP, WISHBONE ASH have yet to experience the return of masses’ love. Meanwhile, though, the veterans bring new nuances to the notions of harmonic tightness and public intimacy when they grace club stages the size of one in Toronto’s Hugh’s Room. Perhaps, sensing the irony of their current situation – that involves performing the whole of “Live Dates,” the group’s classic concert album originally laid down in much larger halls – the quartet started their set, first one in Canada in more than a year, with the wonderful confession of “Strange Affair” which only true aficionados could remember. Still, the audience featured genuine fans who knew every lick of Andy Powell‘s guitar and treated the musicians with such an utmost respect that, before the show and before our interview (to appear on these pages soon), they, almost unnoticed, mingled with the crowd and remained in the close proximity of the spectators for two hours of spellbinding playing.
As collective effort as WISHBONE’s modus operandi’s always been – even now, with Powell’s invisibly running the whole operation – Andy’s a sole, and a very solid, lead singer these days, which gives old songs a previously unknown slant infusing familiar lines with a fresh soulfulness, even softness, instead of defiance, in the case of the “Warrior” chorus. But the limited stage space only narrowed the focus and stressed the strength of vocal harmonies that bloom once Bob Skeat and Muddy Manninen’s voices join in, most prominently on “Rock ‘n’ Roll Widow” where the latter cooked a couple of slide solos. All this resulted in visually static yet emotionally moving show that might have peaked with an inspired reading of “Phoenix” which soaringly tested both the band’s and venue’s dynamics, but got under the listeners’ skin when the ensemble presented two cuts from their latest album, "Blue Horizon": its warm, lulling title track, the second piece on offer, and the closer “Deep Blues,” one to follow the existential reverie of “Sometime World.”
Its dewy-eyed dreaminess delivered a delicate contrast to Joe Crabtree’s powerful drumming on “Baby, What You Want Me To Do” or the free-and-easy brace of “Jail Bait” and “Lady Whiskey” while “The Pilgrim” turned slightly more jazzy and sprightly than ever, and the intro to “The King Will Come” revealed a sharper ska edge. In such a context “Throw Down The Sword” didn’t sound as any kind of surrender. And why should it have been if, after four and half decades of ups and downs, WISHBONE ASH are on the rise again?
Photos: © Eugene Bychkov exclusively for DME