Angel Air 2014
Gloriously raw, heavy mavericks rise to the occasion in the Land of the Rising Sun.
There’s a transcendental moment in live staple “I Believe It” when Del Bromham breaks into “goo goo g’joob”: the very idea of STRAY playing Tokyo in the fifth decade of their existence feels as comfortably surreal as sitting in an English garden waiting for the sun. But on the band’s third concert album, their first having appeared only in 1996, the British trio rip and roar without ever hanging to their cult past. They may finish the set with an expansive version of “All In Your Mind” which kick-started the group’s 1970 debut, yet here the opening hat-trick consists entirely of the tracks from their latest studio record, 2010’s "Valhalla", and when the riff of “Move A Mountain” cuts in, it borders on a tectonic experience, primeval and wild, up to a rock ‘n’ roll wigout.
The piece rejects a “purple haze” habit, while the intro to “Suicide” quotes Hendrix and CREAM – who emerged on the scene at the same time as STRAY did, but didn’t last as long – with much unison gusto, and the ensemble make no attempt to smooth the rough edges. The result is all the more brilliant for that, “Free At Last” bristling with punk vigor as Robbie Stewart-Mathews’ bass locks in with Karl Randall drums and the leader’s guitar rages on. The trio’s tight interplay gets intensive on the classic “Jericho” that explores the quiet/loud dynamics, especially impressive in its Celtic heart, and forty years haven’t dulled the mighty groove of another perennial, “After The Storm,” although there’s no quiet once it ends. The momentum is sustained until the last note dies down, long after the recent “1600 Pennsylvania Avenue” bares the band’s soft underbelly, and “Buying Time” thrives on individual solos and a talkbox asking if the audience are all right.
Why shouldn’t they be if the performance is so powerful? That’s the spirit and the way to stray!