[continued from last post…]
I immediately noted how synth player Joseph O’Keefe held back the tempo of the piano intro to “Private Lives” to prolong the timing of the throwback intro for maximum impact. which made his pitch bending on the synth that immediately followed all the more tasty. The rest of the arrangement was clean and sharp with Ure’s singing having greater clarity than back in the day. All of the lyrics in this show were popping like never before. Then the songs’ distinctive coda wa salso extended for about twice as long as I am used to! Giving O’Keefe the room to really put his stamp on the track while Ure circled back at the song’s end to duet with his synth player, who let his playing get fruitier than we’re used to from Billy Currie. Tasty!
Now I got to hear my “gateway song” to Ultravox with “Passing Strangers.” I was enjoying how drummer Russell Field managed to instill himself into the songs with fills and accents that were not from the Warren Cann playbook, while adhering overall to the classic ‘Vox template. I appreciated how this rendition of the music honored the original without being calcified and locked down. The sound design on the middle eight solo [my favorite synth riffage of all time] was different on the lead patch with a more playful tone that was less machine like than I was used to. And the coda solo from the live arrangement had also changed here slightly. With new snare roll accents accompanying Ure’s great solo.
The lead synth patch on “Sleepwalk” was not as serrated as it had been on the 2009 Ultravox live album, but sounded fattened with a chorus for a new, widescreen aspect. It was still the driving “Judas Priest On Synths’ song of its original conception. The choral patches were a nice touch but I found myself missing the breathless white noise percussive hit as Midge Ure exclaimed the title before the middle eight occurred. That little hook really added to the forward velocity of the song and was missed here.
“Mr. X” received a new, glitchy, shortwave drift soundscape intro before Midge unleashed the song’s title on vocoder. So that was how he was going to reconcile the notion of performing this song without Warren Cann’s distinctive baritone spoken word recitation. A smart move! The rest of the sound design hewed fairly close to the original pattern this time. When O’ Keefe bust out the violin he played the music with scant embellishment. Ultimately, the song still played like the best song left off of “The Man Machine. No change there. But the famous side two “Vienna” suite where all of the songs were segued together was no followed here. Each of the three songs had its own space to start and finish, which I appreciated the difference of here.
Next came the song I had been waiting for. A four-count on a cymbal kicked off the distinctive sequencer pattern that energized “Western Promise.” The wailing synth leads were unchanged but this was already shaping up to be a very different “Promise.” With all three of the band playing synths and Field adding tattoos and fills expertly where none had existed before, striking quickly like an assassin’s blade.
Then the lead synths kicked in after the tense drop to the phased, synthetic shaker vacillating in the stereo spectrum that was punctuated by Ure’s shout of “hai!” Gott imm himmel! These leads were immense, dreadnaught-class synth patches that sounded like they were filling the horizon with their immensity! The sound here was absolutely monolithic and truly epic. The crazed flute-like synth playing along to the percussive drops was not here and I could have cared less. The canyon of reverb as Ure sang the title at the end of each chorus was perfection. The drum fills in the climax were killing me. Have I just heard my favorite song from “Vienna” re-imagined, better than ever, with a different band playing? That would be yeah. Maybe even a…
After that peak of intensity, sustained string patches served as the new intro to “Vienna.” While the song’s synthetic heartbeat stayed unchanged. I did enjoy how Ure varied his timing on the song for subtle difference to the song we’ve heard for 41 years now. The bass synth here was more prominent as well, giving us something new to grab onto.
I enjoyed the extended feedback intro to “All Stood Still” with this always vicious number positively crackling with enrgy here. The synth leads were delightfully different and Midge really bit into the song, allowing a ragged edge to seep into his delivery. The build up to the middle eight was also extended for a bar or two for a sustaining of the tension before Midge really cut loose on the solo in a new way, eventually ceding the spotlight to O’Keefe for a new solo in the now longer middle eight as the song went into the reggae part with a burning intensity.
Then the thrilling end to “Vienna” had come. What could be next but the amazing B-side to “Vienna?” Knock me over with a feather. Yes, please. We next got “Passionate Reply” in the program. The sequenced synth was fatter here and Ure’s guitar was adding delightful crunch to the unique, mannered song. Ure sat out the expression vocals that normally played in the song’s second half to let the instruments do the talking.
A succession of Ultravox hits rounded out the show. “Dancing With Tears In My Eyes” was in classic form, but “Hymn” got a new, slow and somber intro with morose synths leading into Ure singing the intro at a slower tempo before the tempo and song kicked into high hear with what sounded like the fastest BPM I’ve ever heard for it. The distinctive “Enola Gay” synth hook was still there but with more portamento on the notes. Ure, also played with his phrasing here to give things a different spin.
“The Voice” took on a different character here, with a succinct five minute rendition that didn’t attempt to replicate the dramatic percussive coda that was now established as a classic Ultravox move. Wise, and fun to hear the song with Ure’s voice taking the song to its conclusion. The standard concert ended there, but we had gone for the full monty which included three encore songs. “I’ve said it before, but “If I Was ” never sounded better than in its contemporary live incarnation, which added some much needed toughness to the marshmallow of a song. The guitar solo in the extended coda also helped
When “I Remember [Death In The Afternoon]” appeared, it was fantastic to hear this song get the attention it had always deserved. If there was any justice, it would have been the third single from “Rage In Eden.” A dramatic new intro section to the middle eight with staggered synth/piano chords appeared from nowhere, blindsiding me as the song took a surprising turn before ending up at the traditional place eventually. Ure’s solo at the climax there really wailed. Great to hear this one get the love and attention. Then the lilting “Reap the Wild Wind” brought this show to a close. A light hearted moment to close the show on after some of the fevered intensity that had just happened.
I expected that this would be good, but at the end of the day it was much better than that. This show now housed some of my favorite live performances of Ultravox’s canon and that was no mean feat. I have been really getting into playing the audio capture I made of this show and have been known to loop the devastating performance of “Western Promise” in my car at far too high a volume level than they recommend at The Monastery of New Wave for as much as a half hour at a time. I will be making a REVO CD of it this three day weekend [I hope to, anyway…] but I would be on top of a real, glass mastered CD/Blu-Ray/DVD package in a heartbeat. The lighting, staging, and direction of the show was superb [especially if you like blue…] so I can’t imagine that this should just vanish into the ether following my 30 day pass on Stabal.
Speaking of which, the online streaming platform is offering the concert until July 14th in the full, executive version and any Midge Ure fans should give it a shot. It seems like anyone who pays the $30 can watch the show as much as they like until that cutoff date. The interview with Ure as bonus material was interesting as well. Ure is always an engaging guy with an interesting perspective to bring to things. Hearing this much live Visage was nothing I ever imagined!
The only thing that I found lacking in the streaming presentation was that at no point were the talented backing band identified, and given what they bring to the event, that was a real error. They have managed to play iconic material close to my heart in a way that was faithful to then intent of the material without being airlessly slavish recreations of the songs that we all know and love. We have the discs for that if we want it. This concert offered a chance to hear this great material being given an injection of life and the individual chops that the band bring to the playing. 1980 was the year that Midge Ure became “Midge Ure” and the decision to mount this tour was a gift to his many fans that managed to touch many more lives than was planned up front through the decision to stream this final show. If you want to partake, then hit that button.