Think Like A Key 2022

In The USA

Crossing the Atlantic and conquering America: extensive reports of English progressors’ explorations wrap up their overseas itinerary.

“They play heavy, loud and fast”: this is how Jerry Lee Lewis introduced FLASH to “The Midnight Special” viewers back in the day, as preserved for posterity on what’s assumingly must become the last word on this ensemble’s documented concert history. They didn’t just played so – they lived like that. The band’s existence was brief, if memorable – the quartet broke up after two years of activity – and not only because of the breasts-adorned cover artwork of their three albums but also thanks to their sheer brilliance as musicians’ unit. Still, the foursome seemed to abide by the self-imposed rule of “Virtuosity doesn’t have to be impeccably applied to be appealing” – which added deliciously raw edge to the group’s sound and made it so refreshing.

Ideally, this set should attract strictly completists and aficionados – who else wouldn’t mind sonics that vary from crispy clean to almost muddy bootleg quality? who else would want to endure no less than five runs through the infectiously rocking, 10-minute-plus “Children Of The Universe” scattered across the three discs here? – yet there’s something irresistibly arresting about it all: perhaps, the nuclear energy the collective derive from every note they deliver on-stage. The team may not have enough time to properly develop different performances of the material between July 1972 and October 1973 – the span of “In The USA” – but they never played anything in a straightforward manner, adhering to a studio template, and the fun they used to have is apparent in the quotes the quartet inserted in a few originals. However, neither Grieg figure and Chuck Berry licks in the aforementioned epic nor Rossini line in the eternally stunning filigree of “Small Beginnings” – not even “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” or “The Star-Spangled Banner” elsewhere – bring forth the thrill which the early burst of the still-unreleased “There No More” offers via Peter Banks’ six-string assault and the salvo of Mike Hough’s drums before the rumble of Ray Bennett‘s bass and Colin Carter’s voice sculpt the dynamic sunrise to amaze the Hempstead, NY audience with intricate instrumental weave and exquisite vocal polyphony, and let the vibrantly wild, cosmically expansive “Dreams Of Heaven” enter otherworldly dimensions.

The group’s approach feels darker during a show that took place in Roslyn less than a fortnight later, and was transferred to tape nearly entirely: the folk-tinctured numbers from the ensemble’s eponymous debut exuding menace, and pieces from their sophomore effort, “In The Can” blazing with ferocity – “There No More” given a blinding shine, the jazz-tinged tapestry of “Black And White” a thick texture, while “Monday Morning Eyes” condenses rapture into twang and choral reverie and “Lifetime” streams delight in its airy-cum-fiery strands which will locate flamenco towards the tune’s finale. And though there’s no similar surprises in a couple of deceptively identical hattricks scored for Passaic and Indianapolis crowds in December 1972, these display heightened sense of delectable abandon on the band’s part, as their interplay is extremely intense and nuanced, and their solos are to the point – long not lean yet not indulgent either – whereas their singing reveals previously unheard details.

Fast forward to August 1973, and the ensemble take their farewell longplay “Out Of Our Hands” stateside, to Cape Cod, MA, blasting concise, romantically drawn, but groovy, renditions of “The Bishop” and America-inspired “Manhattan Morning” – and to October, when Burbank, CA spectators witnessed the funky-frilled, riff-laden readings of the group’s latest cuts, “Dead Ahead” and “Psychosync” that bulge with rhythmic elegance and melodic wonder, the foursome pipes going for the apex of beauty. And then there are first album’s fare again, laid down in Miami on the verge of bidding farewell, protracted versions of road-tested tracks living up to the “If they can’t get it, it can never be got” verdict which Jerry Lee chose to describe FLASH’s MO. Fortunately, the band managed to seize their moment, “In The USA” emerging as a flawed, if fascinating, report of their exploits.


September 6, 2022

Category(s): Reviews
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