Going into yesterday evening's show at the B Street Theater in Sacramento, California, I knew it would be good. Andy Powell has always insured a high quality product, but honestly, I was not expecting what I witnessed. This latest iteration of Wishbone Ash is as powerful as any lineup the band ever fielded, and it may even be the best. One of the best shows I've witnessed in the last five years, a band at its apex. Lineup changes for rock bands are a funny thing— it's a delicate business of factors that can lead to discussions of musical compatibility to the ability of beings to live together on a tour bus. A lineup change can fail disastrously and alienate a fanbase, or in some cases, it can give a band new life. One of the great examples of this in recent times is the tremendous fire that Ritchie Faulkner lit under Judas Priest when he joined the band. He invigorated a lineup that was running the risk of becoming too entrenched in its own past, and Faulkner did an amazing job to rekindle the fire that fuels the metal foundry that is the Priest.
This year's Ritchie Faulkner Award (remember this a year from now!) is going to the newest member to join Wishbone Ash, and the bands' ninth guitarist, Mark Abrahams. I can't honestly tell you the last time a guitarist new to my realm held me so enthralled. This cat exudes stardust. First, above all things other, he knows, loves, and respects the music of Wishbone Ash. This band features some of the most challenging arrangements in the world of guitar rock, and Abrahams knows them back to front. Second, he looks equal parts like he's thrilled beyond dreams to be in a band with Andy Powell, but he also looks equally like he could not care less. He is one of those players who makes what he is playing his own— he sticks to the arrangements, but his tones, his phrasing and incredible vibrato are all his own. I just wish I could have seen the look on Andy Powell's face when they first played together with the band. Powell has hired a lot of great players over the years, but I saw him shake his head and smile more than a few times last night as his younger charge took the ball and ran with it. Wishbone Ash— I last saw them in 2013, and it was an excellent performance. Powell has never settled for less in a lifetime labor of love that has now been running for forty-eight years, but the band I saw last night has evolved from being an excellent outfit to greatness. No disrespect to any player that came before him, however, Abrahams playing and energy are reminiscent of a younger Gary Moore, and the effect is not terribly dissimilar to the effect Moore had on Phil Lynott's group when he would show up with Thin Lizzy. Abrahams is the ideal fourth corner and his presence should insure that Wishbone Ash not just maintains its place in the world of rock, but it may just be that the third act might be the bands' best. I can't wait to hear what this outfit does in the studio.
Andy Powell runs a tight ship— this band is amazing in its ability to turn on a dime and change direction through complex arrangements, yet still maintain the emotion and subtly of the myriad dynamic changes and complex melodies and harmonies. Bob Skeat is one of the most solid, powerful bassists in rock, jumping from finger to pick and back, and he also supplies the harmony vocals that are such a huge part of the bands' history. Drummer Joe Crabtree is still behind the kit and he's playing more explosively than ever, and he brings a great sense of musicality to the proceedings, a factor that is a make or break factor with musical greatness. Crabtree's subtle stick work is a big part of what makes these complex arrangements easy to digest for the listener. Speaking of Andy Powell, it looked last night like he was having the time of his life. The crowd was fantastic, the band surprisingly energized for the last night of an American tour, and Powell was the perfect host and ringmaster. His guitar playing, while never less than excellent, is being elevated by the presence of the new kid on the block, you can viscerally see the effect and inspiration he's getting from their six string dialogues, and he knows just how to make it work. Powell is a very underrated talent with a voice that delivers night after night, and a melodic guitar style that has resonated with audiences since the days of Woodstock. I would be remiss if I did not mention that Andy Powell also authored on of the finest rock autobiographies I've ever read, entitled Eyes Wide Open (link below). If rock 'n' roll is dead, someone forgot to tell Andy Powell and Wishbone Ash. It looks to me like they're just getting started. Long live Wishbone Ash. Thanks to the entire band for what they brought. Two hours of joy in times that are so often less than joyous. You guys made a lot of people happy last night.
Eyes Wide Open
Way Down South
The King Will Come
Throw Down The Sword
Leaf and Stream
Wings of Desire
Standing In The Rain
Faith, Hope, and Love Blowin' Free
Thanks to Tony Conley for this review which you can also read on his personal blog HERE
This Wishbone Ash show in Sacramento happened to be recorded - you can buy the CD HERE