The cold weather didn't deter a single fan from going to the beautiful Guitar Sanctuary in McKinney to see the timeless classic rock of Wishbone Ash. "Loyal," "die-hard" and "hard core"are just a few of the adjectives used to describe the allegiance of fans who have listened to the super-group since their eponymous first album in 1970, as well as younger music lovers who grew up on their parents vinyl.
Sonar Lights played a short set to warm up the standing-room-only crowd with a mixture of their own songs and covers. With a modern progressive-rock sound with a Ramones influence, they played to their strengths. Their covers songs also included "Eleanor Rigby" and a seldom-if-ever-heard cover of "The Four Horsemen" by Aphrodite's Child.
After an introduction from Texas Radio Hall of Famer Bo Roberts, Wishbone Ash came out to deafening cheers and proceeded directly into the instrumental "Real Guitars Have Wings." Andy Powell, founder of the band, showed why he was, and still is, called the Master of the Flying V guitar. Guitarist Mark Abrahams complemented the Twin Harmony guitar sounds that influenced a number of later bands from Lynyrd Skynyrd to Iron Maiden and countless more in between. The upbeat "The King Will Come" showed Powell still in fine voice and the guitar switches were seamless. The crowd cheered even more when Bob Skeat dove into his first bass solo.
The loyal fans screamed even louder at the first few notes of the recognizable "Warrior" off the Argus album, the best-selling of their 25 studio albums. Continuing with Argus, the band segued into "Throw Down The Sword" which sounded as fresh as it did when it came out in 1972. Forming chords on the lower fret to get high-pitched sounds, Powell picked individual notes that were crisp and clean without any trickery.
Looking the part of a classic rocker in all black with a red vest, Powell stopped to talk to the audience, telling them he just celebrated his 70th birthday. Two other crowd members were also celebrating birthdays, so he got their names and everyone sang "Happy Birthday" to them. He also talked about the new album, Coat Of Arms, coming out on February 28th, and they played "We Stand As One," the lead track from the upcoming album. The three-man guitar front was vintage Wishbone Ash as was the jam that accompanied the song.
Crisp notes and guitars meshing together formed the intro to "Enigma" and the complementary guitars added so much flavor to the song. Drummer Joe Crabtree laid down a rocking beat that both permeated and led the music. Powell continued to engage the crowd with his wit and personality as he talked for awhile about the differences between Brits and Texans and kept the crowd laughing.
The great lyrics of "Way Of The World (Part 1)" drove the tune after a tremendous instrumental beginning. It segued into "Way Of The World (Part 2)" with guitar solos, a drum solo and a spotlight on Powell showing his mastery on a riff. The seamless transitions between guitarists were a thrill for true fans of music in general, not just for the group that has produced 100 unique albums (studio, greatest hits, compilations, live, etc.).
The band that has been described as prog rock with folk and classical tendencies, then added "The Pilgrim." Again, a long instrumental gave the band a chance to mesh their talents while complementing each other. In true superstar fashion, Powell gave everyone a chance to shine and receive their own round of applause.
"Tales Of The Wise" began as a stoic song with a chord switch to make it upbeat with solos, before a long stretch of individual notes made it a memorable song. Showing that great music stands the test of time was "Living Proof" and Powell was noticeably happy on stage while playing it. The freshly-turned septuagenarian was spry on stage as he danced a little and moved about as he was having fun.
The twin guitar harmony came into play during "Jail Bait" with solos that branched into collaborations. Powell involved the crowd with repeat-after-me lyrics and the group jammed to end the set. They soon came back for an encore of "Blowin' Free." Exceptional music, and well-rehearsed movements to the guitar harmony, made this an excellent ending song, as proven by the standing ovations that lasted several minutes.
Everyone enjoyed the almost-two-hour concert immensely. They would have stayed all night, if possible, as any true fan would, but the show had to end. It also gave this reporter a chance for a quick word with Andy Powell. He was adamant that everyone know that the Guitar Sanctuary was a wonderful place to play - "This place is like a church of rock."
Special thanks to promoter Don Wishon for bringing the show to the Guitar Sanctuary. Thanks to Maylee Thomas-fuller and George Fuller for supplying the venue. And thanks to sound man Nick Knirk for an exceptional job of sound engineering. He enhanced a great show and made it a memorable night for many fans.
Be sure to catch them if they play in your area as the current worldwide tour lasts through October. You'll be glad you did.