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Fragile, At The Astoria, London, November 17th 2000

By Mary-Cat Berman

 

On November 17th 2000 Fragile made their debut at the Astoria II in London supporting Pallas. One of those in the audience was Mary-Cat Berman who was in the middle of an epic holiday to the UK in which she managed to take in no fewer than five shows. Mary sent us some pictures back from her home in the US (taken without the aid of her flash hence they look a little dark) and also this in-depth review of the forty or so minutes that Fragile had on stage . . .

 

 
 

 

 

"A hasty retreat!"

I had come to England from my native America to soften the sting of a significant birthday by immersing myself in music, history and this lovely land. Towards the musical end I was entertained by 5 different artists/groups during my 12-day stay, FRAGILE being the "middle child" of the concerts. I met many new friends whilst here, one of which turned out to be a compatriot from a neighboring state, who accompanied me to this gig. It was not my intention to review the concert at that time - only to enjoy it to the fullest, so the descriptions put forth here are of a broader nature, encompassing my overall experience, along with specific impressions that really stuck out for me at the time.

Arriving at the Astoria2 that Friday evening, April and I queued up at what we thought was the Astoria2's entrance. We had directions to the venue, but had never been there before, so we assumed we were in the right spot. Surrounded by punky-looking pubescents, we wondered what we'd gotten ourselves into. Tho' this was my first PALLAS/FRAGILE concert, I didn't think that the audience would be so young/boppy/flashy. After a few awkward minutes we discovered that we were at the Astoria's Main Venue....and bid a hasty retreat down a few doors to the Astoria2's entrance. Whew!!

I'd been introduced to PALLAS a few months before, and was delighted to be seeing them perform whilst here. This was a landmark event for them, and the gig had been heavily publicised on the PALLAS website, along with a plug for the guest band scheduled to appear...FRAGILE. Hmmm...a YES "tribute" band. This is not a familiar concept in America. Most artists here perform their original works exclusively, occasionally doing a cover song or two (halfheartedly), usually to put their own efforts in a better light. Setting these thoughts aside, I decided to keep an open mind, and give them a listen....

 
 

"Carried back to the 70's"

April went upstairs to the Bar, and I planted myself directly in front of the stage. That's my favourite place, and well worth the ensuing backache to be able to see the artists close up. My feeling is - if you're going to a concert just to hear the music, then you can put a CD on at home - but to truly experience a concert, you've got to be right down there in the thick of things. People started gathering near the front of the stage, and I was able to situate myself in a very good spot, just left of center (sort of like me!), and I had a totally unobstructed view of the stage. One thing that struck me at the time was the absence of women in the audience. There were a few of us there, but not a strong presence at all.

The time was approaching for FRAGILE to take the stage. As a support group tonight, they wouldn't be on for very long, and they had to adhere to a rigid time frame, so I expected they wouldn't waste any time.

The lights dimmed, the recorded introduction swelled, and one by one, the band members took the stage. Suddenly, "Cinema" exploded. My ears perked, and my brain said, "This is YES.... but DIFFERENT!" As the instrumental piece went on, I marveled at the tightness of the group. These guys are definitely talented. Not wanting to waste any precious time, "Siberian Khatru" followed directly, and I was introduced to Steve Carney's voice. I am a devoted YES follower, who has seen their live show several times in the past 25 or so years, so I was a bit wary. But I closed my eyes during that song and was carried back to the '70's again. It just kept getting better! Steve's voice came very close to Jon Anderson's, tho' I think his median note is a little lower, but he had the inflection and feeling down pat. I particularly liked the very end of the song ("Outboard, River, Bluetail, Tailfly....") and Steve's interpretation was excellent. "Heart of the Sunrise" was next, showcasing Jon Bastable's driving machinegun accuracy, with Gonzalo Carrera's smooth keyboarding (Is that a Hammond B3?), and Mitch Harwood's precision percussion...I was impressed! Jon doesn't resemble Chris Squire - except in height - but he has a formidable presence, projecting a quiet and determined confidence as he nonchalantly taps the strings that's very appealing. Rob Illes and Tom Dawe (lead and rhythm guitars) worked in perfect harmony, playing off of each other, without any upstaging or overshadowing. Capped off by Steve's vocals, I believe that this piece was the best of the set.

I must comment at this point that the light show at the Astoria2 was exceptional, enhancing the performance in every way. This was extremely beneficial to me, as the flash on my camera had died just before the performance. However, the fortunate combination of ASA800 film and that spectacular light show, provided me with the few good shots shown here.

By now the crowd was starting to come closer. Whereas in the beginning there was a bit of "elbow room", now it was getting quite crowded down front.

 

 

 

 

 

 

"Just absorbing the moment"

Goose bumps appeared with the first few notes of the next song, "And You and I". I was in heaven, but I also feared that I would be most critical of this piece. "And You and I" is one of my all-time favourite love songs (by YES, or anyone else for that matter). I know every inflection, every breath, and every note of that song. It's extremely romantic, whilst being intelligent, but without being soppy. Rob and Tom, got a good workout with this piece, and with Jon's sensuous counterbeats at the beginning, I knew I was going to enjoy this ride. There was only one slight disappointment tho'; in 'Cord of Life', where Steve sings, "Coins and Crosses never know their fruitless worth.......", I didn't hear the duet that's on the album that I love so much ("Turn 'round tailor assaulting all the mornings of the interest shown......"). I sang along to myself at that part, but would have liked to hear it coming from the stage as well. That said, I thoroughly enjoyed the remainder of the piece, especially the faithful rendition on the keys by Gonzalo, and the calculating expertise shown by Mitch in providing a solid backbone for all the timing changes that this piece demanded. "Yours is No Disgrace" was the Band's final presentation of the evening. Everyone seemed very comfortable performing this piece, the music flowed easily, and Steve's vocals were outstanding on this one, crisp and clear as a bell.

Thinking back, I seem to remember snippets of other pieces, familiar bridges and chords interjected here and there, but I was having too much of a good time just absorbing the moment, so I'm not really sure. Unfortunately, time has softened the sharp edges of this memory, and what remains is my overall extreme satisfaction with this show. My biggest disappointment was not with the Band, but with the schedule. Because they were the support group, the set was short, and ended far too soon...just when everyone was getting into the music. I would have loved to hear more. I also would have liked to hear their solos, as well as their own composition, "Theme". My biggest overall impression regarding FRAGILE is that they give a cohesive, polished, innovative interpretation of YES compositions, which is an extremely hard task to undertake, yet they do it effortlessly.

I guess my best tribute to FRAGILE is that I purchased their live album, and play it often. I don't feel that this is disloyal to YES in any way. I feel that it is a refreshing return to the past and gives a different perspective to the present. I wish FRAGILE continued success and look forward to seeing them again, next time I'm on holiday in England.

Mary-Cat Berman


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