As big deals go, this was a whopper. The classic Status Quo line-up, the Frantic Four of early-mid 1970s fury and... okay, lesser returns in the years that followed... broke up in 1981 when drummer John Coghlan bade a very acrimonious farewell; and had not truly existed as foursome since five years before that, when the band first introduced keyboards and a third guitar to the brew. Prior to that, though, and in the memory of everyone who grew up in a Quowhipped world, the names Francis Rossi, Rick Parfitt, Alan Lancaster and John Coghlan meant just one thing.
And when you’re done with that...
Boogie some more.
Quo were relentless. Between 1970, when successive hits “Down The Dustpipe” and “In My Chair” proved they had left the twee twiddles of their picturesque matchstickable past behind them (and America lost absolutely all interest in them), and 1976, when “Rain,” “Mystery Song” and “Wild Side of Life” ushered in a new age of not-so-boogie, Status Quo were the meanest, leanest, bounciest, rockingest, most heads-down-no-nonsense grinding locomotive band in the land. And the fact that America didn’t give a damn was actually to us fans’ advantage. It meant Quo wouldn’t be swanning off on six month US sojourns and making records that sounded like the Eagles, like everyone else.
“Paper Plane,” “Mean Girl,” “Caroline,” “Break The Rules,” “Down Down,” “Roll Over Lay Down.” Those were the hits with which Quo ruled their realm. Piledriver, Hello! , Quo and On The Level, those were the albums from which they came. There would be more, dozens more, in the years that followed - there was a new Quo album just a few months ago, in fact, and it was okay. More than okay, in fact. It was really rather good. But that five year period when the four were frantic, that was what Quo were all about. And here it is again!
Ever present frontman Francis Rossi and lieutenant Rick Parfitt have never been gone. But Lancaster quit in 1986, and with him returning alongside Coghlan, the Frantic Four reunion tour that held the UK in its thrall this summer marked the first time the classic Quo had played together in twenty-seven years. Meaning they’ve been apart for longer than some of their current audience have even been alive.
Of course it won’t be as good as it used to.
Yes it is.
They’re taking things seriously. The Frantic Four play the Frantic Four. No later hits to smudge the memories, no “here’s one from our new record” to fudge the chronology. “Junior’s Wailing,” from 1970’s Dog Of Two Head is the oldest song in sight; “Rain” the most recent hit. Piledriver serves up four songs - half of its original bodyweight; “Blue Eyed Lady” and the epic “Forty-five Hundred Times” piledrive out of Hello!, “Backwater” and “Just Take Me” highlight Quo’s quotient; On The Level and a couple of songs from 1976’s Blue For You wrap things up. In fact, if there’s any Quo album that you should be playing alongside this one, it’s 1977’s Live, recorded the previous year and more or less packing exactly the same set list, minus the handful of extras that this set threw in.
So shall we do that? Shall we put Live on one stereo, The Frantic Four Reunion 2013 on the other, and see which one sounds the most like the Quo remember?
Well, we could, but it’d be a little childish. The new Quo are older, and they sound it. They’re slower and they sound it. And whereas the Quo on Live were still a fighting, functioning rock band, knowing that every new record needed sell like the last one, else people would start writing their epitaphs, the 2013 incarnation are a heritage act, so far above the petty concerns of the pop marketplace that... well, create your own analogy there.
But TFFR2013 is not an embarrassment, unlike so many modern “let’s hear it once more for the walker” reunions; it is not a failure, and it is an album that you can play loud and wish that you’d been there on the night, in front of an audience that may feel uniquely privileged to be witnessing the show, but doesn’t sound like it would have taken any crap.
The classic Quo line-up meant an awful lot to a lot of people, and the standards to which they were held were high at the time. Close to forty years later, those standards have become almost mythic, meaning any performance that slipped below ten-out-of-ten would have been torn to shreds by a couple of thousand denim clad piranhas. The fact that Quo even made it out of the concert hall lets you know how brilliantly they acquitted themselves. And the fact that they only played a handful of old hits, and let album favorites take the weight of the show is another point in their favor.
So “Forty Five Hundred Times” is as dynamic and drawn out as it ought to be; “Roadhouse Blues” and “Bye Bye Johnny” as gloriously frenetic; “Railroad” as lurching and “Little Lady” as loose. And the boogie quotient soars so high throughout the show that it doesn’t matter how many comfortable indoor venues they played on this tour. They all felt like open air fields by the end.
The Frantic Four may or may not return. The magic of these shows might be dulled by repetition. But somehow, I doubt it. Before it happened, very few people ever dared dream they would ever see this line-up reunited. The fact that they did proves that they knew how precious the old memories were, for us and for them.
And they still are.
A prodigious writer, fierce music lover and longtime record collector, Dave Thompson is the author of over 100 books, including Goldmine’s “Standard Catalog of American Records 1950-1990, 8th Edition” as well as Goldmine’s “Record Album Price Guide 7th Edition , both of which are published via Krause Publications and are available at www.krausebooks.com