What does music during the Christmas season mean to you? For the more traditional minded it may be a carol service. For others the sounds of numerous banal seasonal pop tunes (that means you, McCartney) piped incessantly through high streets and shopping malls. For rockers, to realise wistfully that Slade’s Merry Christmas Everybody is the song everyone will remember them by when it is far from their greatest work.
However, for thousands of gig goers over at least the last quarter century and possibly longer, December can only mean an annual Status Quo concert. For the last few years, the 02 has played the London host to the Quo’s diverse fanbase, from families to fanatics in patched denim, but familiarity- and lets face it, there is no more familiar sound than that of the Quo’s three chord boogie- has not yet bred contempt with the lower bowl of the arena pretty full.
Another of rock’s great characters in Wilko Johnson supported as indeed he had on the ‘Frantic Four’s most recent jaunt. His remarkable escape from terminal cancer and the trademark walk across the stage as if he is gliding on an invisible hoverboard mean he is universally loved, but despite the nimble bass fingerings of Norman Watt-Roy, his R n B set was distinctly unmemorable and rather samey.
While ‘Back in the Night’ and ‘She Does It Right’ belatedly livened things up, the reception was notably more muted than for their support slots in the last two years when Chas and Dave and 10cc could supply recognisable hits to sing along to.
The Quo faced no such problems in front of the ‘Quo Army’, and were sticking to a tried and tested, hit-based set, albeit one that played it too safe for some tastes. As the lights went down, as so many times in the past, Rick Parfitt’s furious head down riffing into ‘Caroline’ was the perfect opener.
‘The Wanderer’ and ‘Something Bout You Baby I Like’ were good wholesome family fun, but older fans who remember the rougher days of the Frantic Four line up would have been please by the likes of ‘Rain’, ‘Little Lady’ and ‘Big Fat Mama’, and the band could not be faulted for the tightness of their performance.
One of the surprises was to see ‘Burning Bridges’ moved from the encore to just six songs in- the jig inspired by the old folk tune Darby Kelly is the very definition of a guilty pleasure, but it did the trick of shifting everyone out of their seats.
Francis Rossi remains the mischievous mickey taker, pretending to have lost his voice when he first spoke between songs, making some rather risqué remarks about Rick’s health and medical staff, and playing air harmonica behind Andy Bown’s back.
It’s still slightly disappointing to see some of the songs condensed into a medley of ‘What You’re Proposin’, ‘Down The Dustpipe’ with Andy (looking ever more like Crystal Palace boss Alan Pardew) on harmonica, ‘Wild Side Of Life’, the tumbling boogie riffs of ‘Railroad’, and ‘Again and Again’ with Rick pouring his hear into his singing.
There was no new product to promote but a few well-chosen reminders of Quo’s more recent revival from their nineties slump such as ‘Beginning Of The End’ and the satisfyingly bluesy ‘Creepin Up On You’.
However the surprise of the night was proof that there were other dimensions to Quo, as all five members including drummer Leon Cave gathered around the front of the stage for the quirky ‘Gerdundula’, with the jaunty feel of a highland reel.
Another guilty pleasure in ‘In The Army Now’ and a drum solo provided the chance to catch a breather before the traditional 20 minute back to back boogieathon of the final four tracks – ‘Roll Over Lay Down’ with Francis reeling off some wonderfully crisp clean solos on his green Telecaster, ‘Down Down’ where he did seem to miss a few of the words, and a closing double in ‘Whatever You Want’ and ‘Rockin All Over the World’ that remain some of the best loved and known singalong anthems rock has ever seen.
If ‘Frantic Four’ era fans saw those last two songs as marking Quo’s descent from hard rockers to pop favourites with a wider appeal, they had consolation in encores of ‘Paper Plane’ and the old opener ‘Juniors Wailing’ with Rick doing a fine job on the vocals, before a medley of ‘Rock n Roil Music’ and ‘Bye Bye Johnny’, sung by Rick and Francis respectively.
What also struck me was quite how much fun the band seemed to be having careering across the stage and pulling poses together with the abandon of guys half their age.
It was another thoroughly enjoyable Quo gig. Still doing it after 50 odd years, the Quo are not just for Christmas, but for life.
Review by Andy Nathan
Photos by Paul Clampin
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