When GRTR!’s esteemed Live Editor Dave Wilson asked me to cover this show, I warned him that my review might be rather jaundiced, as I only recognised the original ‘Frantic Four’ line up as the real Quo. The annual Christmas jaunts of the Rossi-Parfitt Band, as I liked to refer to them, summed up how they had become the rock equivalent of pantomime fun for all the family.
However various friends had tried to persuade me for years that, ‘oh no they weren’t’ and the Quo had returned to rocking hard after their descent into the cabaret world of rock n roll medleys and cover versions during the nineties. So, having seen one of the year’s best gigs in the Frantic Four reunion, it was time to give the current line up another chance in the cavernous former Millennium Dome, albeit with the top balcony closed off.
Quo are a breed apart and many of their fans listen to little else, so it must be hard to select a suitable support act, but recent years they have gone for fellow hitmakers on the oldies circuit such as Roy Wood and Kim Wilde. On this occasion 10cc did the honours and proved a very suitable support with an hour long set exclusively of hits from the seventies.
It is easy to be cynical about them with only one of the original core quartet of songwriters, the dapper Graham Gouldman, still in the band, but guitarist Rick Fenn and drummer Paul Burgess go way back to their seventies touring line ups, while new boy of a decade or more Mick Wilson has an outstanding voice, ensuring that Eric Stewart is not missed.
The songs were delivered pretty faithfully to the originals and a reminder that back in the seventies pop could still be clever and lyrical with even a progressive twist. The harmonies on opener ‘Wall Street Shuffle’ and ‘I’m Mandy Fly Me’ were lush, and most people present would have been delighted to reacquaint themselves with the likes of ‘The Things We Do for Love’, ‘Life is a Minestrone’ and ‘Art For Art’s Sake’.
They also rocked out on occasions with ‘Silly Love’, and ‘Good Morning Judge’, having a funky swamp feel almost like Little Feat. ‘I’m Not in Love’ was brilliantly delivered by Mick, reaching the high notes with ease, before Graham sang another old, if rather politically incorrect favourite in ‘Dreadlock Holiday’.
‘Donna’ was the one song where they varied the arrangement with a barber shop style acapella quartet, while in contrast ‘Rubber Bullet’s finally got the Quo army at the front standing and dancing as guitar battled with synthesiser and multi instrumentalist Mike Stevens showed off his saxophone skills. A show I can thoroughly recommend when it tours the civic halls, as it seems to year after year.
After an excerpt from Bula Quo, the intro tape and darkness was shattered when the silhouette of Rick Parfitt, thankfully looking more his trademark self with his hair grown out again, cranking out the opening rhythms to ‘Caroline’.
Indeed it was almost as if the Quo were on a mission to silence cynical observers such as me as without pausing for breath they delivered an opening quartet of ‘Paper Plane’, ‘Hold You Back’ with the whole of the crowd on the floor bouncing up and down (sadly not in the seated area I was placed in, who only took to their feet much later) and ‘Rain’, the latter featuring fine organ work from Andy Bown whose key but underappreciated contributions gave the sound extra depth.
Even if he rather stoops his way around the stage these days, and his voice has lost some of its reediness, Francis Rossi was in sprightly form, not to mention being a highly melodic and underrated lead guitarist, and apologised for playing two new songs, which was unnecessary as both ‘Looking Out For Caroline’ and ‘Go, Go, Go’ in particular were convincingly delivered.
Indeed I was surprised both at the extent to which recent material featured in the set and the quality of it, notably ‘Beginning of the End’ and ‘Creepin Up On You’ , which had a slightly bluesy feel and on which Rick can seldom have sung better.
In between a number of classics were delivered in medley form, and it was great to hear the likes of ‘Railroad’ and ‘Again And Again’, albeit briefly, not to mention a fantastic version of ‘Big Fat ‘which has to be one of the great live tracks.
I even enjoyed, through gritted teeth, ‘In the Army Now’, although the drum solo of otherwise capable new drummer Leon Cave was simply dull. However it became clear we were heading into a home straight of the boogieing classics that the Quo made their own- ‘Roll Over Lay Down’ and ‘Down Down’, albeit with Francis missing out some of the lyrics, then ‘Whatever You Want’ finally got everyone to their feet before Andy tinkled the intro to ‘Rockin All Over the World’ and the 02 was one big party.
It couldn’t all be good news though and when they encored with ‘Burning Bridges’, it may be a guilty pleasure but I could just not bring myself to join in as people, even the large gentleman behind me who had sat like a beached whale for most of the evening, pogoed up and down to the jig. Respectability, or at least rock n roll, was restored with Rick blasting his way through ‘Juniors Wailing’, a surprise inclusion, and a medley of ‘Rock n Roll Music’ and ‘Bye Bye Johnny’.
Maybe absence makes the heart grow fonder, but the gig could barely be faulted for pacing and entertainment value, and, helped by amongst the best sound I have heard at the O2 (and way better than the Mott The Hoople show the previous month), this version of the Quo rocked hard enough for anyone. I left searching the food courts of the O2 complex to stuff a large slice of humble pie into my mouth.
Review by Andy Nathan
Photos by Steve Goudie
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Power Plays w/c 2 April 2018
TAX THE HEAT Taking The Hit (Nuclear Blast)
BLACKBERRY SMOKE Nobody Gives A Damn (Earache)
THE DEAD DAISIES Resurrected (SPV)
CATTAIL BREW Fool’s Gold (Capital City Music Factory/Cargo Records)
Featured Albums w/c 2 April (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 FRONTLINE State Of Rock + 2 (AOR Heaven)
12:00-13:00 GUS G Fearless (AFM Records)
14:00-16:00 TRACK DOGS Kansas City Out Groove (Mondegreen Records)
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