FISH

VENUE o2 ritz, manch­ester DATE 03/12/2018 SUP­PORT doris bren­del

Prog - - Take a Bow - MAL­COLM DOME

It’s never easy to be the open­ing act for an icon like Fish, but noth­ing seems to faze Doris Bren­del. The woman who’s been de­scribed as “the mod­ern-day Ja­nis Joplin” brings a quirky sense of pur­pose to her six-song set, adding touches of per­son­al­ity and stag­ing to mu­sic that has el­e­ments of folk with an al­ter­na­tive rock tone. She has a bold steam­punk dress sense, and uses in­trigu­ing items such as a glove send­ing out beams of laser light to en­hance what is of­fered on a mu­si­cal level. Bren­del de­serves a lot more at­ten­tion, and the warmth of the au­di­ence re­ac­tion is en­cour­ag­ing: she clearly has the abil­ity to ap­peal to a wide cross sec­tion of fans. This per­for­mance, though, is merely the start of the night for the lady. She’s soon back on­stage along­side Fish, as his back­ing singer.

The man him­self is now show­ing signs of creep­ing age. He ad­mits to hav­ing prob­lems with his back and knees, and feels the pres­ence of a bar stool to be a vi­tal prop. More­over, he has a book of lyrics on a lectern. But it’s a re­fresh­ing hon­esty com­pared to those who hide wor­ries about their mem­ory by sur­rep­ti­tiously re­fer­ring to a care­fully con­cealed screen prompter.

But no­body here tonight cares that Fish isn’t in his phys­i­cal prime. The gi­ant Scot has so much charisma and com­mand, and his voice still car­ries that nar­ra­tive nu­ance through which he first made his im­pact. This is a per­for­mance that looks back­wards in a re­flec­tive mood, while also strid­ing for­wards with con­fi­dence.

The lat­ter comes through four tracks that are to ap­pear on new al­bum Weltschmerz, un­der­lin­ing that Fish re­tains the abil­ity to tell hu­man sto­ries with dig­nity. Man With A Stick and C Song are es­pe­cially con­vinc­ing mark­ers of his en­dur­ing and in­di­vid­ual cre­ativ­ity: the lat­ter even prompts an out­break of – ulp! – danc­ing in cer­tain sec­tions of the crowd. What the new ma­te­rial proves is that the man has lost none of his in­nate abil­ity to tell a story that holds ev­ery­one spell­bound.

How­ever, many are here to com­mem­o­rate the 30th an­niver­sary(ish) of Clutch­ing At Straws. Fish knows peo­ple want to wal­low in nos­tal­gia, so he doesn’t make the mis­take of re­vamp­ing these spe­cial songs, con­tent­ing him­self with get­ting lost in the swirl of mem­o­ries that they evoke for all of us. This ap­proach is em­pha­sised by old band footage play­ing on the screen be­hind him.

The al­bum isn’t played in se­quence, but this hardly mat­ters. Fish and his mu­si­cians of­fer more than ef­fec­tive ren­di­tions. He plays the Clutch­ing… tracks in bun­dles, with each of these bro­ken up by one of the new songs. This works well, giv­ing fans a chance to catch their breath be­fore the next batch.

Both gui­tarist Robin Boult and key­board player Foss Pater­son show through­out they are far from be­ing face­less back­ing mu­si­cians. Their in­put im­mea­sur­ably adds to the joy­ous at­mos­phere here.

Fish shows an ir­ri­ta­tion with those who go along to gigs these days and spend their time film­ing the stage on their phones. In fact, he in­sists that those present should de­sist from such be­hav­iour. “I want you to en­joy what you see and get into the spirit of what we do, not get dis­tracted by tech­nol­ogy.”

In­evitably, Warm Wet Cir­cles and Sugar

Mice get a big re­ac­tion. And it’s also good to hear songs from that pe­riod such as Tux On, which did not make it onto the orig­i­nal al­bum. In­com­mu­ni­cado, saved for the en­core, draws the big­gest cheer and sin­ga­long. How­ever, peo­ple leave not with a feel­ing of merely re­liv­ing the past, but cel­e­brat­ing a tal­ent who’s been unique for nearly four decades and is still out on his own. He may be suf­fer­ing some aches and pains, but Fish is still a mas­sive pres­ence, both in stature and per­sona.

“HE MAY BE SUF­FER­ING SOME ACHES AND PAINS, BUT FISH IS STILLA MAS­SIVE PRES­ENCE, BOTH IN STATURE ANDPER­SONA.”ROBIN BOULT: FAR FROM FACE­LESS.FISH: CANE BUT ABLE. THE LECTERN MAY RE­MIND US OF SCHOOL, BUT SCHOOL WASNEVER THIS MUCH FUN…

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