Wishbone Ash

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author BV date 29/01/15 venue Amager Bio, Copenhagen, DEN

Even though we’ve started up a new year, concerts are still a bit scarce at the moment. Beginning to feel the withdrawal symptoms of lacking gig attendance, I figured it was time to give classic prog-rock veterans Wishbone Ash a chance, seeing as they were coming Amager Bio in celebration of 40 years of their “Live Dates” album – thereby playing it in its entirety, sprinkled with a few tracks from their latest effort “Blue Horizon”. As I made my way through the doors of Amager Bio, the crowd looked entirely as I predicted – consisting mostly of people in the ages of 40+ with few forays in to people in their early twenties or early thirties. – Showing that this band has quite a legacy, but might not necessarily be entirely relevant at this point in life.

All photos courtesy of Peter Troest

Wishbone Ash

As the four-piece band entered the stage to the sounds of a synth-laden backingtrack, you could immediately tell that orchestral grandeur and massive prog-soundscapes are what Wishbone Ash are all about. Immediately launching into “Real Guitars Have Wings”, a lengthy guitar-fuelled piece with an exuberant amount of guitar solos, the groundwork for the remainder of the evening had been laid down. With “Blue Horizon”, the title track of their newest album, bass-player Bob Skeat manifested himself as a master of groove – consistently producing highly listenable bass lines that often made up for the fact that Wishbone Ash’s music is, by nature, very repetitive as the guitar solos of the night tended to linger on for what could seem like hours to some, whilst others absorbed every note as if their lives depended on it. It’s peculiar how such a key element of a band can seem so divisive amongst those who have paid to actually see them perform. It is entirely understandable though, as the band had a very low level of focus on actually performing. Sure, they are all virtuoso musicians but they certainly aren’t thrilling performers as they often appear stoic whilst producing their highly technical sonic barrages.

A few songs into their set, the band launched into “Rock n’ Roll Widow” – sounding like something reminiscent of an up-tempo ballad which proved remarkably more interesting than the majority of the set thus far. The slide-guitar performed by Muddy Manninen seemed to be the key to the track’s success, as it was a welcome variation on his and guitarist/vocalist Andy Powell’s dual guitar attack which, to be entirely honest, quickly loses its appeal in my book. That very same slide-guitar was not able to recapture the entirety of the crowd’s interest though, when the band launched into “Baby What You Want Me To Do” – a lengthy slow blues which only seems to work amongst parts of the crowd due to whatever fond memories they have of this track, and others, included in the “Live Dates” album. It seems to be a bit nostalgia-ridden, instead of the track itself actually appealing the crowd on its own, as I doubt many other (or newer) bands could actually get away with spending 7+ minutes on a 12-bar blues with guitar solos galore.

With “The Pilgrim”, I found myself intrigued as the band droned on with a simplistic riff that was neither standard blues, nor eastern music, but settled comfortably in somewhere in between those two categories. It was interesting, to say the least, to see (and hear) the guitar playing be reduced to a bare minimum, relying on atmospherics like volume swells and ambient guitar parts, rather than cliché-fuelled dual lead-guitars. Nearing the end of their set, Wishbone Ash finally bowed down to popular demand as they played “Phoenix” – a track which seems to be incredibly popular amongst the devoted parts of their fan-base. I understand why, as the lengthy track is truly progressive – utilizing a wide array of sonic aids and tempo-changing arrangements to actually create a wonderfully coherent suite of music where the length of the track finally seems justifiable. It’s a wonderful closing of their main set, but seems like too little too late in the grand scheme of things. Following “Phoenix”, the band returned for their encores before the crowd eventually set off into the night – some ecstatic and thrilled, whilst others seemed incredibly bored. I found myself somewhere right between those two characteristics, deciding for myself that I had, at the very least, seen a quite legendary band perform. The specifics are not really something I dare say I’ll remember a few years down the line though.

Setlist:

  • 1. Real Guitars Have Wings
  • 2. Blue Horizon
  • 3. The King Will Come
  • 4. Warrior
  • 5. Throw Down the Sword
  • 6. Rock N Roll Widow
  • 7. Ballad of the Beacon
  • 8. Baby What You Want From Me?
  • 9. The Pilgrim
  • 10. Blowin’ Free
  • 11. Jailbait
  • 12. Lady Whiskey
  • 13. Phoenix
  • --Encore--
  • 14. Deep Blues
  • 15. Persephone

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