Pick Your Rock and Metal

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Can you teach old rockers new tricks?

UFO have been around for 40 years. Yep, you read that right. They've been a gigging, album recording, hard partying, line-up changing heavy rock outfit for longer than the so-called Troubles lasted on these few square miles of earth. Can they still cut it?

On Friday night at the Spring and Airbrake one among the many young pretenders for classic rock glory laid down a heady mix of classic rock vibes before the veterans took the stage. The Maiden City rockers, Swanee River, produced a welter of pounding tracks, laced with a hint of the Stones, a dash of Zepp and more than a nod to Free.

Thanks to the success of The Answer, doors are beginning to open for local hard rockers. Swanee River are among those pushing at those doors. With an engaging frontman and a varied groove more gigging will hone their set and performance yet further. A name to look out for.

But, the crowd was really only there to see UFO, and for many it was to see if they could still cut a swathe through a stage.

It was never likely that the veterans would receive a luke warm reaction given their performance two years ago at the same venue. But that was two years ago. Apart from a new (and very energetic) replacement for the ill Pete Way, this was the same crew. The same jaded, old crew? Nah. Old rockers like this are a real gem on the music scene and a treat to watch.

Yes, Phil Mogg is getting on a bit and is nowhere near as mobile on stage as previously, but he still has pipes that can raise the rafters. And he had the audacity to claim that he was dealing with a bit of a croak! Singers throughout the country can only wish they sounded this good without a croak.

UFO are also a band that is both courageous in song selection, and knowledgeable enough to give the crowd what they want.

Kicking off with the bluesy Save Me off the excellent new album The Visitor, the band raided some less well known tracks, before really settling in. In a rather endearing move Mogg announced they would be giving Hell Driver, off The Visitor, one of its first outings. He then produced a folder with the lyrics which he laid in front of his monitor speakers. Many a singer would baulk at this, but for Mogg it seems that getting it right is more important than false vanity.

Of course UFO cast aside pretence. They collectively know that if someone pays their ticket price (or wins one on this site!) they expect to hear the songs that made them love the band.

It can be too easy for some bands to fall into self-parody, or worse cabaret style routine. The way UFO, and other bands that have been kicking about a while, is to feed off the audience reaction throughout the set. And the only way to get that reaction is to pace the set well, and keep ramping up the performance to a suitable climax.

This was by no means a perfect set. At this early stage in the tour the cues between Mogg and virtuoso guitarist Vinne Moore were a little off, with Mogg sometimes appearing ready to end the song before Moore had finished his widdling.

And therein could possibly lie a weakness in the band. Moore, like many of the axemen who have slung a six-string for UFO, is a phenomenal talent. Whether it be blues tinged intros, mid-80's hard rock riffing or pure out-and-out shredding Moore is among the best. Sometimes, however, it is a little too much. Sometimes the solo outros could lose half-a-minute. Equally his outstanding lengthy solo could be trimmed.

However, he is an engaging character on stage. Posing, pouting and smiling as only a real talent on the guitar should. He, like all the band, understand the importance of making eye contact; of realising that rock and metal are paticipatory events, and the punters deserve to be acknowledged.

UFO delivered the classics that we all recall fondly and in a live setting we sing, chant and bounce around to. Lights Out, Only You Can Rock Me, Rock Bottom, Love to Love, Doctor Doctor, and Shoot Shoot were all delivered with aplomb.

Can you teach old rockers new tricks? Not really, but there are a lot of the newer bands that could learn and prosper from paying attention to what this 40-year-old band do live and on record.

[And Mr Mogg...that kilt was a fashion faux pas!]

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