The Witchwood - Ashton-under-Lyne

Thursday 21 March 2002

Back to the Witchwood, a great live venue with a peerless collection of good beers. Which on this occasion was a bit of a bummer, since I was driving.

History has shown the Witchwood can provide some interesting support acts (I shall never forget Right Band Wrong Planet) and tonight's example, whose name I missed as usual, were a fair example of short song based Mancunian power pop.

After that, things did not start at all well. Gareth's swirling synth got the opener underway, as usual acting as a backdrop for Micky's guitar to take the lead riff. Except that Micky's guitar didn't take the lead riff, and for some time, didn't do much of anything. Leads were reseated, equipment was cajoled, but to little avail. Gareth's swirling synth continued. Deke's guitar effects were added. And Gareth's swirling synth continued. Eventually the Jones Strat consented to communicate with the outside world and the song got underway, but this is scarcely the ideal way to start a performance. At the end of the song there was futher delay as more maintenance was attempted. "All this gear was working properly when we bought it" grumbled Martin. Hangin' On followed, and understandably, Micky's guitar solo was not his best. More technical support arrived, amid some frantic gestures from Bob. Walrus was performed without any great enthusiasm. I can't say how much this was down to the conditions, but it seems a strange choice for a live song - I've seen Martin do it live with Poco Loco and it was terrific, then there's the DVD version, but as a band piece, let's wait and see.

Love Isn't Love got things back on track, and without C'mon in the set, it just fades out in the Wilsonesque coda. Face to Face was the one addition to the set which I thought might provide scope for that little extra, but it wasn't to be. Gareth had a good solo, but Micky's didn't do much. As a slow paced and fairly mournful song, maybe it just doesn't have the pizzazz to really succeed as a live piece, or maybe it was just tonight; further investigation is called for.

It's not a large stage at the Witchwood, but there was space for the keyboards to be set at an angle towards the audience, which is as it should be, and Gareth's organ playing did add something to Wings - which also featured backing vocals from Bob. (Did my eyes deceive me, or was Bob wearing gloves?) The last of the 'additions' for this tour (tonight at least) was Asylum, and it wasn't as crisp as the existing recorded versions. Again, let's put it down to the sound. Many finished the main set, with a sparkling Leonard solo, and the band overall finally seemed to be coming round; and the two encores were performed as sharply as anything they did all night.

Not the greatest of Man band gigs, but they have the excuse of technical circumstances to fall back on. I've seen this venue fuller for Man gigs, but I don't know whether that was a factor. On the way out someone remarked that if the first three quarters had been as good as the last quarter, it would have been fine, and that's about right.

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