Gig review: UFO – Alban Arena, St Albans, 25 October 2016

UFO - Alban Arena, St Albans, 25 October 2016

For a band whose musical quality is right up there with the best, UFO’s legacy in the classic rock hall of fame is not the most secure. Whether its the effect of the off stage shenanigans and constant personnel changes that prevented them fulfilling their commercial potential, or erratic live performances, you rarely hear up and coming bands name check them as an influence in the same way as Zeppelin, Sabbath or Judas Priest.

This was brought home to me on a night when the crowd here was almost exclusively of older blokes in their fifties, whereas for example Iron Maiden- who loved the band so much that ‘Doctor Doctor’ remains their intro music to this day- seem to constantly pick up new generations of young fans.

However, in recent years the enduring stalwarts have achieved a new stability with the same line up for six or seven years, and while Michael Schenker and Pete Way are missed by many, their performances have become more consistent and less mercurial.

With no new album to promote this was a short tour and in the absence of a Capital date many of us London-based fans made the short trek to St Albans. While a typical municipal hall set up, the Arena was spacious and with a good sound that did the band justice.

UFO - Alban Arena, St Albans, 25 October 2016

As Alex Harvey’s ‘Faithhealer’ heralded their arrival it was something of a shock to see Phil Mogg come on stage with a closely cropped head, which allied to his slight frame gave him a rather cadaverous appearance. However the 68-year old’s distinctive voice was on excellent form on opener ‘I Ain’t No Baby’ and an example of how, unlike many other singers, his clear diction always makes it possible to hear every lyric, even if he forgets the occasional line.

Swiftly followed by ‘We Belong To The Night’, this opening pair as a timely reminder that UFO have finally shaken up a static setlist, that for years had slavishly followed the ‘Strangers In The Night’ live album, including adding songs from the underrated Paul Chapman and Neil Carter era of the early eighties.

Phil remains the most unpredictable element with his laconic, stream of consciousness monologues between songs, which are random outpourings of his mind at that very moment, though the perils of ageing were a recurring theme.

UFO - Alban Arena, St Albans, 25 October 2016

The set seamlessly mixed classics such as ‘Lights Out’ with more recent material with ‘Fight Night’ and ‘Run Boy Run’, the latter  from the most recent ‘Conspiracy of Stars’ album, unexpectedly lively.

For me, the defining feature that  sets UFO apart from their contemporaries was the light and shade in their elegantly constructed arrangements and several examples were on show- from the vintage such as ‘Only You Can Rock Me’, combining a memorable riff with that great keyboard and guitar interplay mid song to the slightly more recent- ‘Venus’ (from their 1995 reunion album ‘Walk on Water’) as Vinnie Moore began on acoustic  guitar, then after some great keyboard work from the evergreen Paul Raymond (a St Albans boy no less!), he went into overdrive later in the song.

UFO - Alban Arena, St Albans, 25 October 2016

The prime example of this trait remains ‘Love To Love’, one of the great ballads, and the moment where Phil’s voice gives way to the closing solo is always a memorable one. Vinnie’s playing was technically superb although on this and other songs he still squeezes in slightly too many notes for my taste.

UFO - Alban Arena, St Albans, 25 October 2016

Rob DeLuca’s classic bass intro led into ‘Cherry’ which went down a storm, ‘Burn Your House Down’ started in slow-burning, bluesy fashion but again featured a superb solo from Vinnie who appears to make them sound so effortless, ‘Messiah Of Love’ showed their confidence to throw in new material even near the end of the set and ‘Making Moves’ was another reminder of their most underrated era and demonstrated that Vinnie is actually very well suited to the Chapman material.

We now reached the traditional closer in ‘Rock Bottom’ where Vinnie went off on a flight of guitar improvisation, though he kept self-indulgence in check with the song clocking in at a ‘mere’ 10 minutes.

UFO - Alban Arena, St Albans, 25 October 2016

Likewise there were no surprises for the encore with classic keyboard intro to ‘Doctor Doctor’ and its riff causing outbreaks of headbanging and bouncing up and down from a crowd generally more subdued these days,  and another old chestnut in ‘Shoot Shoot’ though Vinnie gave it fresh life with an improvised bluesy jam.

I often end up disappointed by a UFO  show but, helped by a well appointed venue, this was the most satisfying for some time, not least because of the more varied setlist . They have hit their most consistent peak late in their career, and any doubters should go and see one of the UK’s finest ever hard rock acts and appreciate them before it is too late.

Review and Photos by Andy Nathan

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