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Fragile at the Bull's Head, Barnes, London on 23rd May 2000.

By Christopher Jones

Last night saw Fragile's return to the stage with their new line-up after an absence of over four months and so we sent Chris Jones, Fragile veteran to see how they did. It's a nerve-wracking thing asking Chris to do a review because he has been with Fragile almost since the beginning and has the kind of attention to detail that a band debuting two new members probably doesn't want to be scrutinised by. Still, he's probably the best qualified of anyone to give an opinion as to how this version of Fragile matches up to what's gone before. . .

 

Mitch - Thankful to be there
"A General air of anxiety"

The band arrived at the venue a bit short of time. Their various journeys across London had taken far longer than usual due to heavy traffic. Mitch, in particular, seemed to have been badly affected by the journey but, by the time the cars had been unloaded and the equipment installed on stage, he was nearly back to his old self. Mitch obviously hadn't recovered fullyfrom his recent medical ordeal, but said that he was very thankful to be there and was looking forward to the evening. My wife, Wendy, and I were introduced to Robert and Gonzalo as long time fans of the band, and found them both very easy to get on with. I could be wrong but I detected a general air of anxiety, especially from the 'new boys', but that was hardly surprising in the circumstances. Very few sound checks were done, apart from testing individual instruments, but we were treated to an example of what was to follow from Gonzalo and Robert when they performed part of one of their own compositions. This added to the anticipation of what we could expect. Visually, little had changed apart from the two new faces and Steve updating his Jon Anderson impression with shorter hair and a goatee beard. And, of course, a new trademark fancy shirt!

"It did sound different"

The sound and light checks done and most of the audience of around 50 in attendance, Steve started the recorded introduction. The original 'tweety birds' had been replaced by a Jon Anderson song, New Eire Land, and this was followed by the usual Firebird Suite. The band took their places on the stage with Robert and Gonzalo naturally looking a little tense. Gonzalo visibly took a deep breath and the band launched into their standard introduction number, Roundabout. This time Robert started on acoustic guitar and, for those of us used to the Fragile of old, it did sound different. I was assured later that this was a more authentic treatment of the song. The 'first night nerves' started to tell a little at this point and there were a number of small glitches and praying to the heavens from various members of the band. As this was their first gig for many months and with a new line-up, this was hardly surprising. All Good People followed immediately, with no time for the much deserved applause, and things started to calm down. It appeared that Tom had taken over some of the backing vocals now that Paul had departed and, I might add, it was great to see him back in his old position and regaining the guitar parts that, due to unforeseen circumstances, he had to relinquish in Fragile's previous incarnation. Jon's bass was much more in evidence, presumably due to the acquisition of a four speaker bass unit. A Trace Elliott (sic) GP12 for those technically minded readers. Time And A Word followed and then things really took off. The 'new boys' visibly relaxed and showed us what they could do. Fragile were reborn.

 

Gonzalo - without the hat & cloak!

"All he needed was a wizard's hat and cloak"

Then came the real stress point of the evening. The debut of Siberian Khatru. Steve explained that this number had been planned for about a year but had only been in rehearsal for a few weeks. To be honest you would think that they had been playing it for months. It was amazing for a debut with no discernible problems. Mitch did say in the interval that it wasn't 100% from the band's standpoint, but you wouldn't know it. It was clear now that the new line-up were getting on like a house on fire with exchanged smiles, winks and knowing looks. Gonzalo's keyboards had lifted the whole thing to a new level and all he needed was a wizard's hat and cloak, if you know what I mean. Robert was storming away and I heard one comment that he was the best Steve Howe impersonator that Fragile have had. I was going to add "so far" to that, but that might be tempting providence! Oh yes, and the old boys weren't doing too bad either!

"Note perfect rendition"

Next came Robert's debut as a soloist. Steve announced Mood For A Day and the old hands in the audience held their collective breath. Those of you who were with Fragile last year will know why. Robert leaned over his acoustic guitar, supported on a stand a la Steve Howe. What's this?, we all thought. This isn't Mood For A Day. The set list was carefully checked. It should be Mood For A Day. Steve said so. An impish expression came over Robert's face and a few familiar chords met our ears. He glanced across at Steve and the others at the other side of the stage, smiled, and then it happened. We were treated to a note perfect rendition of the Steve Howe classic. Robert had obviously tried to fool us with a self-penned introduction which, I have to admit, fitted in very well. Then it was straight into Onward, with Robert and Gonzalo to the fore, followed by a blinding version of Heart Of The Sunrise with Gonzalo's 'Wakemanesque' keyboards outstanding again. Then a strange happening. Robert and Gonzalo played a self-penned number, entitled Theme (because they haven't got a title for it yet!), which was met with rapturous applause. In most quarters, that is. Certain die-hard Yes fans in my hearing thought it was a bit risky for a Yes tribute band to be playing their own compositions. In my opinion the tune fitted into the evening perfectly and I see no reason why the band shouldn't be allowed a little individuality at times. This was followed by Fragile's new 'latin rhythm' version of Owner Of A Lonely Heart which, while perhaps not to everyone's taste, was a fitting ending to the first half.

Robert - in the mood

"A lot of hard work"

During he interval I managed to have a short chat with Mitch. He looked tired but said the he was holding up quite well. I mentioned his scheduled drum solo and he assured me that, in his condition, it would be a short one! Another good sign was that Mitch said he wasn't too keen on the idea of an interval because he just wanted to get on with it.

The second half opened with And You And I with Tom, again, back in his old role. This gained the most enthusiastic audience reaction of the evening so far and was followed by another new number, The Meeting, an ABWH composition. Again not strictly Yes to the purists, but who cares? This featured Gonzalo and Steve on top form. It was obvious at this point that no time had been wasted by the band during Mitch's illness. A lot of work had gone into this set especially, as Mitch said later, by Robert and Gonzalo.

"I just got carried away"

Next, Steve announced a 35 minute medley starting with Long Distance Runaround. The band were really working well together at this point and it became obvious that the definitive Fragile line-up had been born. The Fish followed, with Jon's bass stronger than before and with Gonzalo and Robert quietly accompanying him rather than trying to steal his thunder like a previous member of the band who must remain nameless. Just when we expected Mitch's solo, Gates Of Delirium met our ears. We were then treated to Soon, again with Gonzalo featuring heavily on keyboards. This is an old favourite of mine which for too long has been missing from the Fragile set. It was then time for Gonzalo's solo debut and he treated us to an excerpt from Rick Wakeman's Henry VIII which proved his not inconsiderable keyboard skills plus the reason why he is going to be a vital member of Fragile. Hearts followed, with Mitch ably singing the Trevor Rabin backing vocals and with Robert showing that he could also emulate Trevor Rabin just as well as Steve Howe. The medley continued with an excerpt from Ritual and then it was Mitch's turn for the limelight. His 'short' drum solo started with him being accompanied by a cowbell from a drum machine which was a nice new touch. Just when we thought it was all over, the drum machine stopped and Mitch went into overdrive. "I just got carried away", he said later. It was just like old times. The medley ended with Yours Is No Disgrace and, once again, some brilliant guitar work from Robert especially during the solo parts. It was obvious that he had really done his homework.

Tom - With his cap!

"Roll on Roundabout 2000!"

Sadly, all good things must come to an end. The evening closed with Starship Trooper and, thank goodness, with Tom once more back playing Wurm. Only the cap was missing! With Steve's introductions of the band members, and a string of improvised solos, the performance ended on a real high. For the debut of a new line-up, and the return of a drummer from the brink, it was staggering.

Fragile are back in a big way, better than ever. As I've said, this has to be the definitive line-up, and long may it continue. Roll on Roundabout 2000!

Chris Jones
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