High Voltage Day Two: The First Bands Reviewed
Well, we might be blowing own trumpet here, but there’s no getting away from the undeniable fact that Day One of Classic Rock’s High Voltage festival was a spectacular success. Come inside to find out if Day Two matches up, with reviews of The Reasoning, Lethargy, The Quireboys, Audrey Horne, Wishbone Ash, UFO, High On Fire, Steve Hackett and Bachman Turner.
Words: Geoff Barton
The first band of Day Two were The Reasoning on the Prog Stage. The big surprise was seeing frontwoman Rachel Cohen dressed in a decidedly non-prog outfit of a plain-looking white vest and matching shorts; close your eyes and it could almost have been (utter heresy, we know) Lily Allen. Otherwise it was business as usual – moments of delightful waftiness set against periods of extreme heaviness, with unexpected Yes-style veers in direction to keep you on your toes. There was an amusing nudge-nudge moment when Cohen proclaimed: “It’s our job to get your vocal cords lubricated for the day – oo-er!” Closing song Aching Hunger was ace, the crowd chanting along with the mantra: ‘I’ve got that aching hunger, won’t you help me feed it.’ A singalong challenge for an ordinary rock crowd maybe, but the prog hordes, naturally, took it in their stride.
Somehow in recent years The Quireboys – who at one point seemed destined for the dumpster – have become A National Treasure. Frontman Spike has a real swagger about him these days, and he’s got that perilous mic-stand-twirling thing completely off pat as well – something that never used to happen back in the old days (we’ve got the forehead scars to prove it). Spike’s voice has matured as well, somehow becoming gruffer but also richer. Mona Lisa Smiled exuded class and There She Goes Again was celebratory and spectacular.
“To your prog-rock collection point please.” Yep, it was time to venture toward the Prog Stage again, this time to hear Martin Turner’s Wishbone Ash play their classic Argos* album in its entirety. If you’ve been following the epic debate on the Classic Rock website, you’ll know that many doubt the legitimacy of Turner’s version of the Ash. Well, everything sounded mighty fine to us; songs such as Time Was and The King Will Come (a near-perfect rendition) were gentle, measured and stylish – the perfect accompaniment to a glorious English (note: English) sunny summer’s day. This was an epic, 70-minute set but to the Ash’s credit it never flagged. There was a fine moment when, after a particularly tasty guitar solo from Ray Hatfield, Turner bellowed: “Ray Hatfield – rubbish!” Which, of course, he wasn’t. Turner also reminisced about the time when the Ash played outdoors in London at the Oval (we believe it was a Melody Maker Poll Awards concert) “in 1927… sorry, it was 1972.” A nice bit of self-deprecation. *Alright, we know it’s really called Argus.
Over at the Metal Hammer stage, Wales’ finest young rock band, Lethargy, proved their worth with a storming set full of angsty complexity. This was a monstrous performance peppered with true class; surely there are great things in prospect for this fresh-faced and enthusiastic four-piece. Show closer Purification – also the title of their current album, out now on Classic Rock’s Powerage label – sounded suitably mayhemic and maniacal. Breathtaking stuff.
UFO’s first song on the Main Stage, Save Me, was a curious choice of set-opener with its slow pace, acoustic slide-guitar intro and all. Then things went horribly wrong when Vinnie Moore’s guitar (the electric variety this time) refused to work on Only You Can Rock Me. Singer Phil Mogg remained remarkably unphased, however, remarking: “This is why we never got on the X Factor, give us a slow handclap.” Moore’s guitar was eventually restored and from there UFO never looked back, bombarding the crowd with classic after classic: Lights Out, Love To Love et al.
A quick dash back to the Metal Hammer Stage, where we found Audrey Horne kicking up a storm. We’ll admit to being totally unfamiliar with this Norwegian combo’s music, although we do know that they took their name from Sherilynn Fenn’s character in Twin Peaks. So there! But we were massively impressed by their hard rock/post grunge shtick. Even though singer Toschie was dressed like a hospital porter in his all-white outfit, he had something of the Geoff Tate about him. Audrey Roberts (sorry, Horne) might sound intense and overwrought at times, but they’re never less than interesting.
We wish we could say the same of High On Fire, who followed the Horne on the MH Stage. This alleged power trio did nothing for us, and frontman Matt Pike’s guttural vocals were, to be honest, rubbish. There were precious few clues to the band’s stoner metal background – Pike having been the guitarist in the totally legendary Sleep – which struck us a trifle odd. Still, if you like the thought of Slayer being played at 33-and-a-third rpm on a hi-fi made of soggy cardboard, HOF could be right up your street. For those bemoaning the lack of a Pete Way arse-crack moment during UFO’s set – Way being replaced in UFO by Barry Sparks these days – Pike provided that very experience, his beer-gut pushing the waistband of his jeans down repeatedly to reveal you-know-what.
Back on the Prog Stage – a spectacular success for High Voltage; who would’ve thought it?! – Steve Hackett‘s supremely musicianly set had the crowd in raptures. Interestingly, the ex-Genesis guitarist had two gals in his band: rhythm guitarist Amanda Lehmann and bassist… oh, hang on a minute… it’s actually Nick Beggs from Kajagoogoo! Wearing a skirt! Now we’ve seen everything. A special mention, too, for saxophonist Rob Townsend who supplied some memorable interjections in the manner of the parp-meister himself, David Jackson of Van der Graaf Generator fame.
We saw Bachman Turner at Sweden Rock a few weeks back, and the best phrase we could come up with to describe them was ‘entertainingly decrepit’. That still held true for High Voltage, but you couldn’t knock it. BT had a great groove and songs such as Roll On Down The Highway, Rolling Along and Hey You were simplistic but highly effective. Still, that didn’t stop the couple in front of us from sitting cross-legged on their straw mats, reading the Sunday papers in seemingly bored fashion. More fool them. There was a memorable moment when Randy Bachman proclaimed: “We’re back!” (Shouldn’t that be: “We’re Bach?” – Ed.) And did they play You Ain’t Seen Nothin’ Yet? Well, to answer that question, the words ‘bears’, ‘shit’ and ‘woods’ spring to mind.
* Stay tuned to the Classic Rock website for Malcolm Dome’s verdicts on the rest of Sunday’s bands.