Steve Howe @ Gorilla
An unusual, Hammond organ led take on Black Sabbath's classic War Pigs plays out in Gorilla pre-set. The average age of tonight's audience, sat politely talking amongst themselves on neatly arranged chairs is enough for us all to claim a bus pass. With the two tied together, it makes the evening a rather stately affair, fitting really, for one of prog rock’s most respected elder statesman.
Here to support of the release of his new Anthology double album, which collates highlights of his work from across a 36 year time span, the majority of the onlookers tonight have grown up with this music. It has been at their side like a loyal companion at times and so to see it in such an intimate setting is truly warming.
That song playing through the tannoy is telling of Howe's mind set nowadays, here is a once earth shaking song given a more tranquil demeanour. Indeed, bifurcating his time with the big, grandiose noises of Yes and with more placid solo shows such as this, he has the ability to air his array of musical guises in their appropriate settings. Alone under the spotlights tonight, this is all about one man and his guitar.
Dairy of a Man Who Vanished, which makes an early appearance, is stripped bare of its original layering and instead the raw beauty of his playing shines through. But it’s when he trades his steel string Martin acoustic for the warmer tonalities of his nylon string that the set ascends to its peak.
The baroque flavoured Corkscrew, the unmistakeable Classical Gas and a gritty take of Mood for a Day are a great spectacle as you watch his fingers pirouette across the fretboard. Where on his Martin the sound of his claw like finger nails scraping across the strings was a hit harsh on the ears at points, here, those raking accents open up a whole new expressive dimension to his playing. A guitar he had hand made in Japan not long after the recording of Tales from Topographic Oceans with Yes, it's been by his side for a long time now and the bond he has with his instrument is clear to see.
Returning after what felt like a long interval, the rest appeared to have hindered Howe's flow, with the first few numbers not quite annexing the magic of earlier. However, Sketches in the Sun soon brightened things up with some vibrant, major tinted chordal work. Originally written and recorded on 12 strings, again this performance is much rawer, much leaner, although the room’s natural reverb does help reflect the original’s echoic nature.
Throughout he reminisced tales of tour stories of yesteryear, except they weren't about him per se: "Rock n' roll is all about throwing your television out of the window but I didn't want to hurt anyone below" he quips to the sound of hearty laughter. So instead he sang Over The Shoulder, a song written about what happens when you have too much fun and dedicated to his old touring techs. One of few songs he sang on, he simplifies his playing to allow his low, almost meditative voice to take the limelight.
He leaves one of his first born sons, the bouncy jig of The Clap, to curtain closing duties and it works a charm. His fingers cascade across the fretboard one last time, his hands twisted, like ivy around a tree, in the most baffling of shapes to play the most serene of chords. He stands up, puts his guitar down, smiles and bows. The audience stands and does, in keeping with the song’s title when he named it, what he had hoped people would when they heard it: Clap.
Words: Phil Weller
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