It was sunny and 70 degrees as I left the house this past Wednesday evening. My wife came home early to tackle the 3rd grade homework responsibilities, so I got to drive to the night's Wishbone Ash concert in the convertible instead of the Chevy kid bus that usually calls my name. Just like the car I drove to the show, my taste for Ash music had changed on this evening as well. My usual serving of the classic "Argus" to get pumped for the show was abandoned for the latest release, "Clan Destiny." I kinda felt like I had left my wife for another woman, or I had just jumped off the towering Chicago skyscraper I could see in the distance. I knew that flying down the interstate with the top down and "Blowin' Free" kissing the wind as I sailed was not going to happen tonight, but rather I was looking forward to "Surfin' A Slow Wave" to this one; and as I hit the pavement of I-355 North at 5:00 on a weekday, a "slow wave" is exactly what I got. I had plenty of time to "make love" to "Clan Destiny" as I rode the wave of glimmering automobiles to the venue. I must tell you, "Surfin' A Slow Wave," "The Raven," and the rest of "Clan Destiny" was a wonderful passenger to have as the sun started to set and the night came down. I had left my Wishbone Ash "security blanket" at home, and I was going to be alright.
As I made my way into the club, I was quickly greeted by one of the cute young barmaids that was feverishly racing around. As I told her that I was craving an ice cold bottle of beer after my long drive, she asked me if I would like a "Lite." I insisted on my usual calorie-filled domestic brew; I wasn't ready to take on yet another "mistress" tonight. At this point I was ready to accept whatever the legendary Wishbone Ash was set to throw my way. It was seconds before showtime as the lights went down. As the silhouettes of Bob Skeat, Muddy Manninen, Ray Weston, and the great Andy Powell moved about and positioned themselves in the darkness, many questions rolled through my head. How much of the set would be from "Clan Destiny?" Would guitarist Muddy Manninen be settled in and comfortable with his role beside Andy Powell? Would I be hearing something I've never heard done live before? All of these questions and more were about to be solved and I was excited to hear the answers. As the band synched up to deliver the first note of "Outward Bound," the lights ignited with color and another Wishbone Ash experience was about to be had.
As "Outward Bound" wound down, and Andy Powell asked the crowd how they were doing, the deep roar that followed sparked a thought. I was standing in the middle of a fraternity; a musical brotherhood of passionate Wishbone Ash fans. There were so many familiar faces; faces that I have seen again and again at Wishbone Ash concerts. The love and the loyalty among this brotherhood of Ash fans is beyond compare. Never has there been a flock of devotees like the Ash fanbase. The regulars were extremely receptive to the new sounds of "Slime Time" as they were delivered before the classic "Argus" tracks, "The King Will Come" and "Warrior." The two generations of Ash songs stood side-by-side, arm-in-arm, each with a tremendous amount of valor. And this was one of these evenings where anything was going to sound great. With Manninen taking on a considerably larger amount of solos, the question of his capabilities was finally put to rest. His more "patient," bluesy style has been in question since the absence of the brilliant Ben Granfelt, but tonight was proof that he was settling into his role with a fire and confidence that so many have been waiting for. He had played just about every lead part in the set so far, and was nothing short of spectacular doing so. As the band launched into "Healing Ground," one of the standout tunes from their latest "Clan Destiny" disc, once again the fellowship between the old and the new was harmonious.
On top of being an extraordinarily tight night musically, this night would find the band performing an odd set that spanned their entire history. In the past, the set list was packed with the "sure thing" songs; songs that have been adored by fans for decades; many of them plucked from the first four records of the band's extensive catalog. Songs like "Throw Down The Sword," "The Pilgrim," "Rock-N-Roll Widow," and "Jailbait" were all regulars in the typical Wishbone Ash set list in the past. Tonight, those songs would not be played. Instead, we heard songs like the politically charged "Underground," and the progressive majesty of "Tales Of The Wise." Of course, some of the early staples were included ("Phoenix," "Blowin' Free," "Ballad Of The Beacon," etc.), but I think the set list served as a message to Ash fans everywhere. A message that reads, this is not a band dependant on only its classic material, but a band that has the confidence to play any of its songs and still be a successful live act. With "Why Don't We" and "Master Of Disguise" being powerful statements of their confidence, they nailed the tunes with an intensity and power that I rarely see in a live act. The band was on fire tonight, and each and every track was sharp enough to shave away any stubble from the face of doubt. This was Wishbone Ash 2006, and they proved that they belong in this decade as much as they belonged in the 70's, 80's, and 90's.
So as I drove away from the small club that housed this inferno of perfectly aged musical wine, I realized that I wasn't the only one who had jumped off of a building tonight. Ash seemed to have left Lady "Argus" and the classic catalog home alone tonight as well. And it turns out that we not only landed on our feet after this enormous leap of faith, but we hit the ground running.
Outward Bound / Slime Time / The King Will Come / Warrior / Healing Ground / Why Don't We /
Underground / Dreams Outta Dust / Master Of Disguise / Tales Of The Wise / Hard Times
Living Proof / Phoenix
Ballad Of The Beacon / Blowin' Free
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