There could have been magic in the air when ACOUSTIC STRAWBS wove their unplugged yarns on-stage, if only this band weren’t so down to earth. They are, perhaps, even more grounded when in that format than when Dave Cousins tells his tales amidst the electric charge. Two sides of the same coin as they are, subtleties are aplenty in such a quiet zone, and Toronto’s “Hugh’s Room” provide the trio with a perfect atmosphere for that, as documented on 2004’s DVD recorded at the venue. A decade on, the trio have moved closer to their classic period, Chas Cronk slipping into Brian Willoughby’s spot to flank Cousins with another Dave, Lambert, and their concert repertoire got expanded into the progressive reaches: it might pose a potential paradox, given the seemingly simple strumming approach, yet the justification for it lies in the STRAWBS’ new CD. Due to be out soon after their Canadian stint, “Prognostic” was already on sale, although it didn’t inform the perfomance, song-wise, that thrived on the exquisite renditions of erstwhile arrangement-heavy pieces like “Benedictus” with its a cappella harmonies or “New World”: the serious facet of the set.
The songs sounded even more gravely in the second part of the show. It peaked with “Autumn” with its tremendous instrumental intro and Lambert’s slide solo, the rendition resulting in a standing ovation, while “Tears And Pavan” conjured up the baroque folk spirit at its most enchanting, unlike “The Man Who Called Himself Jesus” which was originally done by an acoustic trio, and this time set the tone for the straightfaced humor of the evening. Having presented his new book, "Exorcising Ghosts", earlier in the day, Dave Cousins interspersed musical numbers with arresting, and oftentimes funny, stories – remembering Sandy Denny, who wandered through the band’s ranks, Gus Dudgeon, who, on the strength of his work with STRAWBS, became the producer of their future charts-nemesis Elton John, and, of course, when it came to “The Hangman And The Papist,” Rick Wakeman using the paint roller for the group’s “Top Of The Pops” appearance. In their turn, Cronk, alternatively on a six-string and bass, and Lambert, employing banjo on “Cold Steel” and taking the lead vocals on “Oh How She Changed,” added beauty to the leader’s dry drift or heightened expressiveness to “Ghosts,” yet one of the most riveting and lyrical moments came on with “Grace Darling” that dug deeper emotionally than communal-spirit encores “Lay Down” and “We’ll Meet Again Sometime.”
These were needed, though, as they accumulated the union feel which the audience felt from the off and throughout. So the magic was there anyway.
Photo: © Eugene Bychkov exclusively for DME