Wishbone Ash - California To Kawasaki - A Roadworks Journey [Talking Elephant Records - 2021]
Wishbone Ash have been kicking around for over 50 years, they are pioneers of the twin lead guitar and have been an influence on a host of hard rock and metal bands that have followed in their wake, the likes of Thin Lizzy, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Van Halen, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Metallica and Opeth are just a few of the big names to have espoused their talents over those five decades. So, it’s great to hear that the band fronted by their only original member, guitarist-vocalist Andy Powell, are still out there touring and making new music, which brings us to this, their latest release. A double live CD recorded on two separate occasions, the first disc recorded at the B Street Theatre in Sacramento, California in April, 2018, and the second recorded at Club Citta, Kawasaki, Japan 11 months later in March 2019.
Both live sets are completely different, there is no crossover at all, which makes this all the more interesting. The fact that the band were able to play two such very different sets, just a year apart shows both a remarkable confidence and a good knowledge of their own material. How many bands could mix up their setlists this much? I wouldn’t have thought too many, however it also shows the wealth of material the band have at their disposal.
The songs on these two discs are drawn from across the band’s entire catalogue, but they pay special attention to their debut album and the timeless Argus (1972), as they should, those albums are all-time classics. It doesn’t take very long to hear how tight the band sound, opener on disc one "Bona Fide" is a fine example of a band who have an almost telepathic understanding of one another, the rock n roll boogie of "Eyes Wide Open" follows next, "Way Down South" is a slower more chilled track, then we’re into a trio of classics from "Argus", "Warrior", "Throw Down the Sword" and "Leaf and Stream". They sound as good today as they ever did, the vocal harmonies and the guitar playing stand out here, they’re simply outstanding. "Wings of Desire" and "Standing in the Rain" keep things moving along well, before Phoenix quietly explodes onto the scene, featuring some incendiary guitar work from Messrs Powell and Abrahams across its perfect eighteen minutes of length. "Faith Hope and Love" closes out the first disc and brings a superb set to completion.
"Prelude", from 1976's New England, opens disc two, the Japanese concert from Kawasaki, before sharply running into "Real Guitars Have Wings", from 1987s Nouveau Calls album, this in turn is followed by the bluesy rock of "Come in from the Rain", and the excellent title track of their 8th album Front Page News. "F.U.B.B" is a sprawling guitar workout, while "Living Proof is a grittier blues number. "Runaway" is a solid rocker, while "Lifeline", sees a return to a more guitar-oriented, but softer sound. "Sometimes World" is the only track from Argus on this disc and features more amazing guitar from Powell and Abrahams, this segues into "Error of My Ways" from the band’s debut album, "Why Don’t We", takes things down a notch in preparation for the epic "Persephone", from the There’s the Rub album. The album is brought to a close by the bluesy "Blind Eye" from their debut album.
Overall, Live from California to Kawasaki is an excellent double live album, both featured shows, highlight the band’s amazing skills. I’ve talked a lot about Andy Powell and Mark Abrahams guitar playing, but it’s not fair on bassist Bob Skeat and drummer Joe Crabtree (the latter who has also worked with David Cross and prog rockers Pendragon), who are top-class musicians in their own right. It’s not an album that will change anyone’s opinions about Wishbone Ash, but those who share a fondness for these living legends will find plenty to enjoy here. It’s another excellent release from Talking Elephant, who just continue to go from strength to strength.Darren Charles