Where: The Catalyst, 1011 Pacific Avenue, Santa Cruz, California
Tickets: $20. Visit www.catalystclub.com
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, April 18, 2015
Where: M15, Corona, California
Tickets: $20 advance, $22.50 at the door. Visit www.m15concerts.com
When: 8 p.m. Thursday, April 23, 20115
Where: The Coach House, San Juan Capistrano, California
Tickets: $20-$25. Visit www.thecoachhouse.com
When:7 p.m. Friday, Apr 24, 2015
Where: Arcadia Blues Club, Arcadia, California
Tickets: $25 advance, $30 at the door. Visit www.arcadiabluesclub.com
When: 7 p.m. Saturday, April 25, 2015 Where: Ramona Main Stage, Ramona, California Tickets: $30, $250 for six-person booth. Visit www.ramonamainstage.com
Band website: Visit http://wishboneash.com
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into The Catalyst in Santa Cruz
is remembered with excellent musicianship
There have been many English rock bands that have survived the vagaries of sex, drugs and rock and roll over the years, but their number is diminishing. They struggle to stay together, stay relevant, even stay alive.
Luckily for us, Wishbone Ash has achieved all of the above. Though there is only one member from the original lineup, founder Andy Powell, the sound is very much the same as it was in the early '70s: Driving rock riffs, soaring vocals and at the time unique twin guitar harmonies.
I first came across the prog rockers when I lived in London. Although not quite as progressive as Yes or King Crimson, Wishbone Ash was already carving out a name for itself. My brother brought home a copy of "Argus," the band's best-loved album, with the picture of a Roman soldier on the cover. We played that LP into the ground. So I was happy to see that the band was playing at the Catalyst in Santa Cruz and, along with a smattering of newer tunes, they would be playing the "Argus" album in its entirety. What a treat!
Warm-up band Sometime Jones (Chris Cousineau on lead guitar from the Union Grove Music store next door, Gregg Jones on drums and Brian Parsons on bass) gave us an extended jam or two which helped the first drink go down.
But once they’d cleared off, we got down to business. Wishbone Ash came out and started us off with "The Power" from 2007’s "The Power of Eternity" a classic riff rocker which showed us what we’d be in for from the two-lead-guitar band.
The Catalyst has two rooms – the main room and the smaller Atrium. Ash played in the Atrium, to shall we say a "select" crowd of about 100. A little disappointing for a band that has played stadiums such as London’s Wembley Arena, but Bob Skeat, who has been playing bass for them for 18 years, told me that they had never really broken through on the West Coast, but the turnout back East was much better. No matter. I thought the sound in the Atrium was excellent. We could hear every guitar note without being blasted. And with the bar at one end, it was a very comfortable evening, almost like having a private concert.
"Blue Horizon" from 2014’s album of the same name featured some classic twin guitar lead work from founder Andy Powell and Finnish blues-rocker Jyrki "Muddy" Manninen. Manninen is your typical blond-haired Finn and plays a lovely, ’57 reissue Gibson Les Paul Junior through an old Marshall tube amp. Powell, on the other hand, after seeing Albert King playing one, decided the Gibson Flying V was for him, and has played the same ’67 model for many years. Wishbone Ash pioneered the harmony twin lead guitar format, and Powell has consistently appeared in Top 20 rock guitarist lists.
But we came to hear the album "Argus" and the Ash did not disappoint. The gentle acoustic guitar opening riffs and vocal harmonies of "Time Was" took us back to 1972.
Then the band really opened up. My friend Steven said albums from 1972 had a special place in his musical memory. That was the year he escaped the Vietnam draft. ‘Nuff said. Onto the anthemic "Sometime World," with its double-time solo section, ably recreated by Manninen. Though without Bob Skeat’s driving bass, this would just be a shell of the original.
Then Joe Crabtree’s military drumming started building up from nothing and told us that the standout track "The King Will Come" was on its way. The lyrics are based on verses from Isaiah, and Andy Powell says he was listening to a lot of Fairport Convention at the time. But the music is pure Celtic rock. Vocal harmonies are interspersed with driving guitar riffs and twin guitar leads that stand the test of time. It seems quite tame now, but in its day this was truly progressive rock. Though sharing a similar birthdate to Yes, King Crimson and Led Zeppelin, Wishbone Ash defined their own place in rock history.
The fingerpicked guitar in "Leaf and Stream" reminded one of a bubbling stream, trickling down through the valley, whereas the military drumming on "The Warrior" ties in nicely with the Roman soldier on the album cover. We closed out with "Throw Down The Sword," Manninen and Powell’s guitar leads intertwining like some auditory vine.
Having played the whole "Argus" album for us, the band was able to let loose on a few encores, including Jimmy Reed’s "You Got Me Running." Manninen was able to break out his slide work here, which was a joy.
In all, a thoroughly enjoyable evening for young and old. Most of the attendees probably had the original album from 1972, but there were a few younger rockers there too. Wishbone Ash has a number of other gigs in California this month if you missed this one. Check out the band's website for coming gigs, at http://wishboneash.com.
Email Tony Lacy-Thompson at firstname.lastname@example.org