The ‘unplugged ‘ tradition is now a firmly established rock n roll industry norm for bands to find an alternative way to revitalise- and of course promote – their body of work. It’s horses for courses however, and one of the bands you would have counselled to stay well clear of the format are Status Quo, purveyors of three chord electrified guitar boogie for the last half century.
However, proving that old dogs can learn new tricks, they recently surprised everyone by releasing the cleverly titled ‘Aquostic’ and – in a further proof of the sign of the times – these new arrangements were showcased in this atmospheric live setting with a show simultaneously broadcast on Radio 2.
Host Jo Whiley may not be known as a friend of classic rock, but she hit the nail on the head when she described this as the band venturing way out of their comfort zone. The air of suspension of disbelief continued as they hit the stage (thankfully fully clothed unlike on the album cover) with an excellent new track, ‘And Its Better Now’, no less than five of them up front and harmonising in a way that called to mind Crosby Stills and Nash.
On the other hand perhaps Quo are not such unlikely candidates. Stripping back the songs in this way did show the quality of their songwriting and Francis Rossi’s reedy voice always did have a slightly countryish tinge. ‘Break The Rules’, with some harmonica from Andy Bown, showed this perfectly.
Rick Parfitt’s all out vocal style was perhaps less naturally suited to the format though I was amused when he delivered ‘Again And Again’ in a somewhat crooning style which reminded me, if no-one else, of Mud’s Les Gray.
The set with a few exceptions, was pretty much a Quo greatest hits with few of the old boogie classics spared this unexpected makeover, even ‘Caroline’ and ‘Down Down’ subjected to this treatment, although the sound got a bit samey at times.
Rather than try anything clever with acoustic guitars, the songs were completely rearranged so that in most instances the accordion player or a string section would recreate the signature riffs or solos. This was a highly impressive feat and it was obvious a huge amount of thought had gone into the musical choreography.
Nevertheless Quo’s music has always been rhythmic and therefore even to the unplugged versions it was possible to see people’s feet shifting on the floor and spells of mass clapping along.
Chat between songs was kept to a minimum, possibly to stop Francis by his own admission swearing before the watershed, though I thought it was disappointing the guest musicians were not credited by name.
The highlights were probably some of the more varied songs in Quo’s repertoire that would not normally be suited to live performance, and which their more metal-oriented fans might disown, ‘Rock n Roll’, with Andy on piano, brought back memories of constantly hearing it on the radio in about 1981, while the string arrangements perfectly suited the psychedelic feel of ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’.
‘Don’t Drive My Car’, which Francis admitted he used to hate, was given a more pop feel by girl backing vocals, ‘Down The Dustpipe’ felt authentically bluesy with harmonica playing and ‘Margarita Time’ was perhaps closest in spirit to the original recording. It didn’t all work though with ‘Rollin’ Home’ becoming a bit of a schmaltzy Stewart-esque scarf waver.
But in true Quo tradition the main set ended with ‘Whatever You Want’ and ‘Rockin All Over the World’, and despite the new format there was a joyous atmosphere with the whole of the floor bouncing up and down in unison and singing along.
Sticking rigidly to the precision timing of a 90 minute radio broadcast, they encored with ‘Rock Till You Drop’, turned into a surprisingly mournful dirge, before ‘Burning Bridges’. Now, this bastardisation of the old folk song ‘Darby Kelly’ is seen by many old school Quo fans as the black sheep of their catalogue, and yet the new format worked perfectly. As people pogoed up and down to the jig the vibe it was only lacking Morris dancers and a maypole.
It wasn’t perfect, but this was an intriguing evening with one of rock’s best loved catalogues rearranged lovingly in a way no-one could have imagined possible.
Review by Andy Nathan
Photos by Christie Goodwin
Album review (Aquostic)
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