Sunday, 18 December 2016

Status Quo - Birmingham Review

Status Quo were one of the first bands I ever saw live, and were a key band in my musical development. While they are not a band that I regularly listen to anymore, I still have a huge respect for them. Along with AC/DC, they are probably the perfect example of bluesy rock 'n' roll in it's purest form, and have been touring the world and wowing audiences for over 50 years now. All good things must come to an end however and this current tour, dubbed the 'Last of the Electrics' tour, is allegedly the last from the Quo as we know them. The tour has already been extended way into next year however, so it seems the Quo are not ready to hang up their trusty Telecasters just yet! The band have said that they will continue to tour in their acoustic 'Aquostic' mode after this tour is finished however. It seems like the right time for Status Quo to bow out however as Rick Parfitt, the main driving force of the band along with founding member Francis Rossi (vocals/guitar), had another heart attack earlier in the year and has permanently retired from live performances as a result. Different members have come and gone from Quo over the years, but Rossi and Parfitt have been ever-present. In some respects it does not feel right to continue with Parfitt, but the show must go on as the band felt it right to honour their extensive touring schedule. Parfitt's place has been taken by Irish musician Richie Malone (guitar/vocals). Both of my previous Status Quo gigs have been in Plymouth, but with the band opting to play bigger venues on this tour, I opted for Birmingham instead this time. The Barclaycard Arena was a new venue for me. Slightly smaller than the Genting Arena that forms part of the NEC, the city centre arena impressed. The place was still very big however, and the sound was pretty solid throughout. While some of the seats towards the back were curtained off, the rest of the venue was full. Status Quo can still pull a big crowd, of all ages, and it was clear that everyone was here for a party.

Opening the night were the comedy rock/lounge trio The Lounge Kittens, a group of three ladies who perform classic rock and metal songs in an almost a cappella style but with piano accompaniment played by one of the members. As support bands at rock shows go, this has to be one of the strangest ones I have seen. While what they did was not exactly bad (in fact a version of Toto's Africa was pretty spectacular) it just seemed to clash with all the classic rock that was to follow. They were only on stage for around 25 minutes however, so they did not outstay their welcome. At a wedding or some other sort of function, The Lounge Kittens would be fantastic, but as a support for a major classic rock band they just felt out of place.

The special guests were much more suited however, and rock legends in their own right. American AOR bands REO Speedwagon do not make it over to the UK that often, so their addition to this tour was a big reason for me buying a ticket in the first place. I have been a big fan for a long time, and have been waiting for an opportunity to see them live. Despite only getting an hour on stage, the band really delivered, playing hit after hit for the large crowd. I have heard reports that the sound on the floor was extremely poor, but where I was sat up to the side of the venue they sounded great, and the opening number Don't Let Him Go really rocked out of the speakers. Kevin Cronin (vocals/guitar/keyboards) really has not aged at all, and his voice sounds as strong and as smooth as it did in the 1980s. He was the star of the show, and interacted well with the crowd throughout with some good banter. While REO Speedwagon were never as popular over here as they were in America, there were still plenty of people in who seemed to know the songs. Take it on the Run was predictably well received, but it was Can't Fight This Feeling that was the highlight of the early part of their set, with founding member Neal Doughty (keyboards) seated at the piano to play the distinctive intro. Son of a Poor Man showed off the band's earlier more hard rocking sound. Doughty's honky piano drove the song, and there was plenty of opportunity for Dave Amato (guitar/vocals) to solo, and he did this with bluesy aplomb. All of the best songs were wheeled out at the end however, with the 1970s hard rock of Ridin' the Storm Out seeing quite a bit of movement from the fans down at the front, and then when Cronin seated himself behind the piano everyone knew what was coming. Literally everyone knows Keep On Loving You, it was a Top 10 single over here after all, and there were phones in the air and arms waving as the classic power ballad bled out of the arena speakers. There was time for one more song, and the suitably upbeat Roll With the Changes brought REO Speedwagon's set to a triumphant end with plenty more soloing and hard rock class. I hope the band return to the UK soon in their own right, as I would love to catch a full-length headline show in the future! The setlist was:

Don't Let Him Go
Take it on the Run
Keep Pushin'
Can't Fight This Feeling
Son of a Poor Man
Time for me to Fly
Back on the Road Again
Ridin' the Storm Out
Keep on Loving You
Roll With the Changes

Despite REO Speedwagon's classy performance, it was Status Quo that people were here to see. With so many classic tracks to cram into their set, Quo setlists are fairly similar tour to tour, but they are delivered with such conviction that it does not matter. Malone's riff to Caroline opened up the show, and he showed throughout that he is more than up for the task of filling Parfitt's shoes. His tough rhythms anchored the band throughout the evening, while Parfitt's lead vocal parts were covered by John 'Rhino' Edwards (vocals/guitar/bass guitar) and Andy Bown (vocals/guitar/keyboards/harmonica). An early highlight for me was Something 'bout You Baby I Like, which has such an infectious chorus, before Rhino sung Parfitt's Rain with ease. Softer Ride shows the band's blues roots perfectly, and shows that Rossi has not lost any of his vocal skills. His voice is still as strong as it ever was, and he is still a great showman. He handles much of the band's lead guitar parts too, and he solos his way through many of the songs with ease. Medleys are commonplace at Status Quo shows, and there was a lengthy one in the middle of the set that began with What You're Proposing and ended with Paper Plane. It was the second half of the show where most of the real classic tracks were, but there was time for a few lesser-known numbers too. The strange Gerdundula was one of these, and saw four of the band armed with guitars while Leon Cave (drums/percussion/vocals) came down to the front of the stage to play various percussion instruments. Songs like Gerdundula show that Status Quo are about more than just the three-chord boogie rock they are known for, and are more diverse musicians and songwriters than many often give them credit for. The band's cover of In the Army Now is also different from their classic sound, but was greatly enjoyed by the crowd who were really into the show at this point. A short drum solo from Cave followed, before four more classics to round out the main set. Whatever You Want and the piano-led Rockin' All Over the World were the real highlights, and the band left the stage to huge cheers. There was time for a couple more however, and the 1960s beat-style Burning Bridges (On and Off and On Again) went down well, before the band's customary Bye Bye Johnny ending saw one one of the biggest crowd sing-a-longs of the evening and ensured the evening ended on a real high. The setlist was:

Caroline
The Wanderer [Dion cover]
Something 'bout You Baby I Like [Richard Supa cover]
Rain
Softer Ride
Beginning of the End
Hold You Back
What You're Proposing/Down the Dustpipe/Wild Side of Life/Railroad/Again and Again/Paper Plane
The Oriental
Creepin' Up on You
Gerdundula
In the Army Now [Bolland & Bolland cover]
Drum solo
Roll Over Lay Down
Down Down
Whatever You Want
Rockin' All Over the World [John Fogerty cover]
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Burning Bridges (On and Off and On Again)
Rock and Roll Music/Bye Bye Johnny [Chuck Berry cover]

Overall, this was a fantastic evening of classic boogie rock from the band that really started off that whole movement in the late 1960s. Status Quo may be beginning to wind down now, but their legacy will remain and they still are a force to be reckoned with live. Add in a great support slot from REO Speedwagon and you get a top night of live music.

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