Talking Elephant 2021
Throwing down the sword and opting for easy road, British legends offer belligerent caress to the listeners to take them on a trip around the world.
Unlike many of their peers who keep on purveying classic rock, WISHBONE ASH have never seen their legacy as something set in stone and preserved for posterity in the studio-defined way, treating it on-stage with levity that may belie their cuts’ seriousness. This is why the quartet are at liberty to change, ever so often, not only arrangements – which, some may argue, depend on who happens to be the sole original member Andy Powell‘s guitar foil – but also set lists. And here’s the testament: two shows recorded less than a year apart in the States and Japan, with the same, ensemble’s latest, line-up, yet not overlapping even in a single piece.
More so, given the group’s stretch of what now is considered their quintessential platters spanned a whole decade, and there was enough numbers afterwards to add to their glory, the veterans are able to make the set lists fresh, peppering the performances with such half-forgotten and still punchy pop songs as “Why Don’t We” from “Here To Hear” and “Eyes Wide Open” from “Clan Destiny” – and if they open the Sacramento concert with the scintillating “Bona Fide” that the band’s audiences love, they start the Kawasaki evening with “Prelude” that used to get lost on “New England” and shines so brightly on this double live album. Dusted off for those tours, neither sharp riffs of “Standing In The Rain” nor infectious figures of “Come In From The Rain” reveal feel obsolete. As for the aforementioned frivolity, it’s manifested in an occasional reggae passage, long-ingrained in the fabric of “The King Will Come” yet appearing in a few other places as well, including the wonderful “Persephone” and “Faith, Hope, And Love” which is unfurled into an epic, toasting-enhanced hymn.
However, while the American document has an entire second side of “Argus” delivered vibrantly, though not in order – lowered vocal harmonies caressing “Warrior” and acoustic lace enshrouding “Leaf & Stream” – the Kanagawa one features just the delicately intricate “Sometime World” from the collective’s 1972 masterpiece that they played in its entirety then but excluded from the CD due to space constraints. And while the Americans fans received the transparent “Wings Of Desire” and a smooth “Way Down South” from the then-most-recent "Blue Horizon" where the newly introduced Mark Abrahams’ six strings take flight, the Japanese punters got “Real Guitars Have Wings” – full of almost-orchestral effervescence. Still, whereas the bass-anchored “F.U.B.B.” meanders heavily without deviating much from the vinyl template, “Phoenix” rises to improvisational, unison-elevating heights and expands to the whopping 18 minutes, allowing Bob Skeat and Joe Crabtree to unleash a folk-tinged, groovy filigree of tribal stripe.
Yet, of course, the irresistible, tremulous impact of “Front Page News” and “Errors Of My Way” can’t be diminished, and the perennial mass appeal of “Living Proof” and encore “Blind Eye” can’t be denied, while the lava-viscous “Runaway” and reflective “Lifeline” prove their vitality too. Theirs – and WISHBONE ASH’s who manage to remain relevant and riveting five decades since the ensemble’s beginnings.