The Witchwood - Ashton

Thursday 5 June 2003

George & DekeBack again to one of the Man band's regular stopping off points, where you can be sure of a decent atmosphere and something worthwhile to drink. In the concert room, a pint of Holts was 1.45, which is damn good, till you realize it is just 1.20 in the main part of the pub. And while I'm reinforcing the tight Yorkshireman stereotype... oh forget it. My fault for not getting a ticket in advance. And the price included a support, singer/guitarist Darren Poyzer. Worthwhile, but a bit worthy for my tastes.

Ride has been the set opener on and off for some time now - the intro easily lends itself to variation, and there was some here, and even more variation in the middle instrumental section. After Gareth's synth solo there were some new directions in the guitar playing which took us well away from the original riff. A good start. After some banter relating to Deke's hearing aid, we got the first indication of a significantly reworked set, as Martin launched into Mad on Her, the rifftastic piece from Twang. George's Les Paul gave the sound a very raw edge, more so than his Dad's Strat used to, and it fitted in very well. Walrus was next, and it was especially noticable here that the bass seemed a little high in the mix, as it often did all night. It since transpires Martin wasn't using his usual amp. There's an explanation for everything.

And we then got a third consecutive vocal from Ace, and again it was a Twang recycle, Jumping Like a Kangaroo. It's a good, if not great song, and was very welcome, if leaving some of the crowd shellshocked. It was taken at a leisurely pace, though Gareth's keyboards disappeared to some extent, as they had on Mad on Her, but then, they hadn't been written with keyboards in mind. With time, they will doubtless find their place.

We then returned towards more familiar territory, though not entirely. C'mon had an intro changed from when I last heard it, with some terrific hypnotic keyboards and guitar. In fact it was as if the entire song had been given a thorough overhaul, and George included some rich, luscious soloing which I think has to be the best I have heard him play. (So far). And that is saying something. Then, just as I was thinking it could get no better, we were treated to a few instrumental minutes of Call Down the Moon. This really was classic stuff.

In passing... The subject of setlists is one Man fans regularly argue over at length. I've personally taken the view that the band should play what they want to. That way, it's more likely they will enjoy thenselves and consequently give better performances. After all, they do make a point about ignoring audience requests. That said, I have been disappointed at how the CDTM material faded away so quickly. My own view is that CDTM the album is streets ahead of Twang and Species, and it's all the more galling that no official live record exists from that era (excepting Drivin' Around from Star Club). The world would be a better place with concert versions of CDTM, The Girl is Trouble, X-Ray Eyes and Burn My Working Clothes available.

Rant over.

Martin & BobThey continued to mine the rich Twang seam with Feather, a great riff which again benefited from George's Gibson sound. Overall the song was a bit rough around the edges, but then you have to consider that of those on stage, only Deke and Martin were involved in the birth of this number. Like the earlier Twang material, the keyboards were something of a spare part, but to be fair, Twang is very much a guitar driven album. If this sticks in the set, I have no doubt room will be found somewhere. Bob's drumming on these songs lacked Pugwash's full throttle approach, but Bob is probably more artist than artisan, and he does right to put his own stamp on this material.

After that, Popemobile seemed rather stale and pedestrian in comparison, but things perked up with 7171, and Gareth re-established his presence with a great Hammond solo.

Fireplace brought the main set to an end, and what with Martin's previously mentioned different bass sound, the whole thing was a bit rythym section heavy. Or maybe that's just the Witchwood's usual erratic sound. Still, it meant they left the stage at full tilt.

They encored with Spunk Rock, as has become the norm, and the George & Bob duo still start it off with a masterclass of Light and Shade. It's terrific stuff that probably would not work on record, but live, it more than does the business, almost turning the rest of the song into an anti-climax. Almost. And to finish... another one dealt from the bottom of the pack, the short and powerful Hard Way to Live. Hugely enjoyable.

No Bananas, no MACBFGU, no Romain. But it's still very much the Man band.

There are pics from this gig in the Gallery.

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