have always been a band that sits firmly between two genres. With their ‘twin guitar’ lead sound they predate Judas Priest by 4 years. They’ve got the blues chops of any of the so-called British Blues-Rock bands (Fleetwood Mac, Ten Years After, Blodwyn Pig) but their music tended to the more progressive side like a Jethro Tull without the flute. They achieved their finest moment in 1972 with ARGUS, a vaguely conceptual album about medieval chivalry and combat that reached #3 on the UK charts. This album has routinely been credited as an influence on Thin Lizzy and Iron Maiden, so you can see the diversity of the sound the Ash brings to a show. For years, two of the founders – Andy Powell and Martin Turner – have been arguing in and out of court for the rights to the name.
The version that played North Austin’s new music venue The Roost last Sunday was Andy Powell’s (they also recently won the rights to the name once and for all) and they put on a clinic on how to soldier on in this post-progressive world. The interplay of the two lead guitars is really the focus of the music, and both founder Andy Powell and 10-year veteran Muddy Manninen did not disappoint. However, this is complicated music and depends on a really solid rhythm section. Bassist Bob Skeat, a member since the mid-nineties, held down bottom, with several extremely melodic grooves that show an obvious Paul McCartney influence in the music of the Ash. The kid on the stage, Joe Crabtree, seemed to relish every tempo change he could shift on the drums and even got in a mini-solo or two. I’ve never seen the band live before, but musically, Wishbone Ash sounds just as good if not better than on the record. Vocally, without the most recognizable voice from the original recordings, the band slips a bit, but honestly, this has never been a band that has been about the vocalist.
The focus of the show tonight, much to the audience’s delight, is to play the entirety of the Argus album in order. I love these conceits because it forces bands to play songs they often have never played live (or haven’t in years).
Tonight’s unsuspected gem is “Leaf & Stream” a folky, down-tempo almost poem that is out of step with most of the rest of the evening’s music. The standouts are of course “Throw Down the Sword,” “Sometime World,” and the undeniably catchy “Warrior.” “Warrior” is the track that got me into the Ash, having appeared on a rhino box set of prog rock, Supernatural Fairy Tales, that my college roommate played religiously. Other highlights included the 1971 prog workout “The Pilgrim,” the 1974 anthem ballad “Persephone” and the endlessly awesome “Phoenix” from their 1970 debut (and in which they sound their most Tullish). But the set does not only rely on cherished relics. One of the strongest songs of the night is the title track to the new album “Blue Horizon,” a prog-blues epic that shows Wishbone Ash has aged well, and has not drifted too far from the sound they perfected in the early seventies.
Before they left the stage, the band promised a return to Texas next spring, so if you missed this show, I highly suggest catching up with this band upon their return. It’s nice to see a truly talented band doing what they do best, loving it, and playing intimate venues for fans, new and old. Also, if you haven’t been to The Roost – it’s really fantastic. The sound was great and vibe was chill and classy. I plan on doing a piece with the owners shortly, so look for that.