Never the most prolific of touring acts, when UFO announced a full tour less than a year after their last one, it was a no brainer to go, even if a clash with the London date sent me 60 miles up the M40 instead on an all night bus service to catch them in the City of Dreaming Spires.
For nearly 30 years they have been one of my favourite bands, patenting a perfect blend of muscle and melody, and even if live shows have disappointed at times, with classic members Phil Mogg, Paul Raymond and Andy Parker well in their sixties I always go as I never know how many more opportunities there will be.
The good news for a very healthy sized -if ageing! – Sunday night crowd was that they were on good form, as tight as a unit as I have probably seen them and helped by a sound mix that some complained about but which for me had a sharper, rockier feel to it than last year’s showat London Forum.
Phil was on top vocal form with little sign of wear and tear, while he is to put it mildly a singular character. Swigging beer and saying that ‘a busy bar is a jovial bar’, he was in a good mood but playing up to his increasing stereotype of the stand up comic who thrives off audience heckles, and not finding enough hostility this evening. As the night wore on, his between song banter became an ever more freeform surreal stream of consciousness.
However there is no escaping an elephant in the room as far as UFO gigs go, and that is the most static setlist of any act of their stature and longevity. The ‘Strangers in the Night’ songs are some of the best loved in the rock canon, but the wide range of other choice cuts, especially from the post-Schenker Paul Chapman and Neil Carter years, are entirely ignored.
With less need to promote their last opus Seven Deadly Sins a year on, this was a perfect opportunity to rectify this. Instead the set was actually shorter, and the nearest to a surprise was Lights Out moved to the front of the set, and a relatively rare airing of Cherry, Rob DeLuca playing the distinctive bass intro to perfection.
A trio of songs from the last album- Fight Night, Wonderland and in particular Burn Your House Down which has a slow, menacing feel to match the lyrics, show that they are still writing good new material, even though Helldriver was frankly dull.
Inevitably though the much-loved classics got the best reception- notably Only You Can Rock Me, a wonderfully emotive Love to Love with Paul’s classically-inspired keyboards and what seemed a longer than usual solo from Vinnie Moore, and Too Hot to Handle, culminating with he and Rob playing guitars behind their heads.
Phil quipped that the ladies in the audience(not that there were many!) had better beware these Americans who in the war had brought over silk stockings and chocolate, then teased Vinnie at the start of Rock Bottom by saying the solo had in the past gone on so long he was able to fly to the Bahamas and back.
In fact, I thought his playing was the most controlled and closer to the Schenker spirit I have yet seen from him, even if he does barely move an inch from his position stage left and pulls exactly the same facial grimace throughout!
No surprises for the encores as Doctor Doctor – a song, lest we forget, so iconic that Iron Maiden come on stage to it- saw the odd pocket of pogoing break out, followed by a brisk Shoot Shoot.
The setlist issue won’t go away, but UFO were on lively form and a greatest hits set will be justified when they play Download’s main stage this summer to give younger fans a musical education: I wonder what they will make of Phil Mogg’s unique stage humour though?
Review and photos by Andy Nathan
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