UK may be the Rodney Dangerfield of progressive rock groups. Outside of their hardcore fans, this band doesn’t seem to get much respect. Fortunately those fans, zealots and otherwise, who were on hand to witness UK’s one hundred minute set on Monday, May 21, 2012 at the Mesa Arts Center in Mesa, Arizona gave the band plenty of respect. Standing ovations after each song were the norm and were well deserved.
This evening’s version of UK was the trio that comprised the band from 1978 through 1980, Eddie Jobson on keyboards and violin, John Wetton on bass guitar and Terry Bozzio on drums. Despite only three musicians on stage, any lack of lead or rhythm guitars was not missed. But you might expect that from a group of players that have been described as musicians’ musicians. Watching each individual perform both solo numbers and within the group is jaw dropping.
With blue back lighting silhouetting Jobson’s keyboards and Bozzio’s massive drum kit, a low pitched drone from Jobson’s synthesizer announced the show’s start. Jobson, dressed in all black and wearing dark glasses, soon walked out on stage alone and started in on the opening notes of “Alaska.” Amid the almost cosmic sounding tones, Bozzio, also in black, then snuck into his cage of percussion and began to join in. The duet became a trio as Wetton came on stage, his bass adding another element to the song. “Alaska” soon morphed into “Night after Night,” allowing the audience to hear the vocals many were more familiar with in listening to Asia or King Crimson as Wetton’s voice became the fourth instrument on stage.
With the highlight song from their second album Danger Money, “Carrying No Cross,” the band showed what they as a group do best, weaving the virtuoso keyboard playing of Jobson with Bozzio’s beat and Wetton’s bass and voice. Then, as if the audience hadn’t been awed enough, it was time for the solos.
First Jobson was highlighted showing his multi-keyboard playing ability. Why Jobson never appears in anyone’s list of top rock keyboardists is beyond me. No respect I tell ya (feel free to pull on your collar while you say that). After letting his keyboard loop some back ground music, Jobson picked up his green violin and proceeded to coax sounds out of it every way imaginable. Whether it was by bow, by plucking, by strumming or even finger boarding on the side, Jobson’s work on the violin was mesmerizing.
Next, it was Bozzio’s turn. At least Bozzio does deservedly show up on most of the best drummer in rock lists and he showed why. This wasn’t a drum solo. This was a drummer performing a song without other musicians. There was no randomness in his hitting a multitude of snares, cymbals and tom toms. This was an intricate melody. It was spellbinding. If this performance was any indication, Bozzio remains one of rock’s greatest drummers.
No momentum was lost as the band joined back together for “Danger Money.” The energy carried through the remainder of the show, with another chance to witness Jobson on the violin for “Caesar’s Palace Blues.” Responding to the chants of “UK, UK, UK” the band returned for a two song encore, the first number being one of Jobson’s favorite King Crimson songs, “Fallen Angel.” This was Wetton’s chance to solo, not with his bass, which was discarded, but with his voice. Wetton seemed to be at his strongest vocally for this song, accompanied only by Jobson on piano. The night ended with “The Only Thing She Needs,” another song which highlighted the best of each band member.
Why UK never claimed the success like that given to other progressive rock trios from England that featured a lead singer/bass player, top of the line keyboardist and an innovative drummer such as Emerson, Lake and Palmer or even by that time, Genesis, is difficult to pinpoint. Talent wise, UK was every bit the match for those groups. On this night, Wetton, Jobson and Bozzio seem to enjoy bringing onstage what they had created over thirty years ago. Let’s hope it won’t take that long again before they tour together. After all, the guys deserve a little respect.
Set List: Alaska | Night After Night | Thirty Years | Rendezvous 6:02 | Carrying No Cross | Keyboard/Violin solo by Eddie Jobson | Drum solo by Terry Bozzio | Danger Money | Presto Vivace & Reprise | In The Dead Of The Night | Caesar’s Palace Blues | Encore: Fallen Angel | The Only Thing She Needs