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The Robin Hood, March 20th 2003

Review & Pictures By Malcolm Jeffrey

Fragile Going For The Robin!


  

An Absolute Age

It seems like an absolute age since my last fix of Yes music from Fragile, back in June 2002 : this time chums Bob and Yvonne are along for the ride and we meet in the bar of the Robin Hood, which is already nicely full of Fragile's Brierley Hill Chapter, all sporting ancient Yes tour t-shirts and newer Fragile ones. I've brought along my camera tonight as well as pen and paper and it'll be interesting to see if I can juggle a review and a digital camera as well as a pint, but I'll gamely give it my best shot !

Going in, the gig room is also filling up nicely and I spot Fragile members Jon Bastable, Robert Illes and Mitch Harwood milling about : Mitch passes close by and I say hi. A brief chat ensues and, on your behalf, as it were, I ask Mitch "What happened to Gonzalo then ?" to try and flesh out the mystery of where and why Fragile's previous keyboardist went. "You tell me !" a still-puzzled Mitch says - it turns out Mitch used to pick Gonzalo up to give him a lift to rehearsals and one day he had disappeared and couldn't be found anywhere ! I wish them luck, Mitch heads off for the dressing room and I rejoin Bob to report on the still AWOL Iberian Khatru : Bob remarks that Fragile seem to be as plagued with line-up problems as Yes do themselves, and, thinking on it, there certainly seem to be some odd parallels ! The early Yes albums featured Peter Banks and Tony Kaye before they both left, and the early Fragile gigs at the Robin featured Micho and Paul : whereas Wakeman played with Yes for the next phase before sloping off, and lo and behold, Gonzalo has kept the analogy going ! Odd, eh ?

Maximum Talent

A study in concentration . . .

Cheesecloth & Ashes

Riffing With Passion

The room fills up, the lights go down and the Firebird Suite comes on the p.a., and in the darkness, to a hearty cheer from us lot, Fragile stumble their way through the billows from the rather hyperactive smoke machine and take their places. Almost before the stage lights flood in, Robert Illes, resplendent in a chest-hair-friendly cheesecloth top that many of his colleagues will tease him about tonight, hits the opening riff to "Siberian Khatru" and the evening I've awaited for nine months is underway. Steve Carney is at the mike, singing strong, clear and almost Anderson-high as ever, and he's outdone himself this gig by sporting a gold Paisley-pattern jacket over his usual translucent cheesecloth suit - but stealing the sartorial carpet right from under him is the demonic Jon Bastable, whose fiery, dragon-pattern shirt and harlequin trousers surely mark a new watershed in tribute bass-playing haute couture, and I can only hope my pictures will do them justice ! Meanwhile, Max Hunt, the new keyboard player, is studiously creating an authentic-sounding, Wakemanesque atmosphere, Tom Dawes is filling, punctuating and riffing with passion, Mitch is underpinning Jon's faithful homage to Squire's great bass tune with solid and intricate percussion, and, from a cold start, Robert is making Steve Howe's stuff look easy with a deft demonstration of quality guitarwork. The usually reliable Robin Hood sound squeals a little with rare feedback when all of the instruments kick in after the start of the song, but it's soon reined in and Fragile deliver a splendid opener for the Yes-starved Brierley Hill prog-rock enthusiasts.

    

We Have Heaven!

Mad Magyar Stare!

Fragile go straight into "South Side Of The Sky", Robert again quite effortlessly dispatching all those in-between punctuating phrases and riffs and featuring a note-perfect middle section from Max : there is something of the air of Patrick Moraz about him, both physically and stylistically, but he is clearly a splendid player and has seamlessly fitted into Fragile's lineup. After we've all shown prolonged appreciation for their opening numbers, Steve says hi to us all and is clearly happy to be back in Fragile' s "spiritual home" : then it's back to the set list with "And You And I", tight and well-performed, with Mitch's Bruford touches and Jon's faithful bassline the foundation of this great Yes song. Following this, Robert Illes steps over to the acoustic-guitar-on-a-stand and fixes us with his mischievous, mad Magyar stare while the rest of them slope off behind him : warming up with the second half of "Mood For A Day", he continues to entertain us with "The Clap", played with showmanship, gusto and no mean skill. His colleagues return to the stage while we're applauding him, and perform a faithful "Wonderous Stories" for us, following which Steve asks us "Are there any musicians in ?" and begs us "Don't take too many f?cking notes, for Christ's sake !" as they confidently launch feet-first into "Heart Of The Sunrise", precision-tight on the time signature changes and a tribute to their collective musicianship. Then Robert is once more pressed into service as he and Max are left alone on stage to perform Fragile's own "Theme", suitably Yes-like and atmospheric.

Fiery Demon!

Tom - Solid!

Phenomenal Volume

Hurray ! A twittering of exotic birds begins to ring around the room, heralding the second time I've seen Fragile go for "Close To The Edge" : Jon and Robert nail the frenetic opening section, the whole band seem to be far more comfortable and relaxed about it this time around, and the three-part harmonies in the middle "white lace" section are breathtakingly tight. For me, the highlight of this particular rendition, though, came in Max's church organ section following this, when, either by luck or design, the big organ chord sequence is belted out with phenomenal volume - the room rattles with the bass-ness of it and it really is the live equivalent of listening to the original with your headphones on ! Outstanding, and the audience explode with spontaneous appreciation : as the piece continues, with Robert and Mitch intricate and syncopating, Max, Tom and Jon solid and reinforcing and Steve calling out Anderson's bewildering lyrics with passion, we're all treated to a magnificent performance of Yes' finest hour. There's a huge bellow of delight from the Brierley Bonk crowd, and Steve shares a huge grin with Max before turning to us, saying "You liked that one, then ?!"

Humorous Interludes

Finally we've all calmed down, and Fragile, clearly game for Marathon performances, revisit their previous stamina-sapping work, the "Yes Medley". Opening with a faultless "Long Distance Runaround", continuing with "The Fish" (Mr Carney introduces Jon as "the man of mystery himself, Jon Basketball..." !), launching jauntily into "The Gates Of Delirium" and coasting down with a fine, atmospheric "Soon", the medley allows Max to showcase his evident keyboard talents with a selection of Wakeman highlights, which he punctuates with a few humorous interludes in much the same way Rick is prone to doing : it's brought to a conclusion by Mitch's elaborate drum solo, and, introducing the next Yes number himself, Mr Harwood says it's "dedicated to that baldy bloke at the front" - "Yours Is No Disgrace" ! This long, tricky number is, as ever, delivered with deceptive ease, good humour and skill by Fragile, who, at its close, have played just two pieces in the last 40 minutes, by my reckoning ! Finally, the first set is drawn to a close with "Starship Trooper" - no individual "what we like when we're not listening to Yes" intros at the end this time, presumably because of the short time that Max has been a member, but Tom's foot-on-monitor, crowd-pleasing "Würm" more than makes up for it. :) And then Fragile are off for a brief break while the knowledgeable Midlands audience applaud their efforts and talents enthusiastically.

 

Max - Humorous Interludes

The Brains of the Outfit.

Transcended . . .

But they haven't done impressing us yet : back they all come for a belting rendition of "Cinema", with Robert effortlessly switching styles to match Trevor Rabin's soloing, and then follow this up with a wholehearted, joyous "Roundabout". And the evening is brought to an all too soon conclusion with Steve introducing the individual members of the band for our appreciation, over the chords to "Endless Dream / Talk" : this tour, Steve sings us the words to it too, somehow poignant as today things have come to a head in the Gulf : "When the world brings you down, you gotta play this living game". All of the members of Fragile cease playing in their turn and leave the stage, Max the last off, and another night of Yes excellence is over : I have just enough time to show a swiftly emerging Tom Dawes the piccies on my camera and we're off home.

And, once again, Fragile have faced up to and transcended their remarkable brief, to perform the complex, remarkable, multi-layered music of Yes live. I'm sure that as long as they want to drive up here to amaze us with their skills, we'll all be here to come along for the ride. See you at the next one !


Quick Review By Sharon Hopkins

I was at the Robin last night. It was the first time I have seen 'FRAGILE' and they are certainly the best tribute band I have ever seen.

The energy was electric and the talent absolutely outstanding.

I saw 'YES' at Stafford Bingley Hall in the 70s, which was memorable, but I don't remember them being this good!

'FRAGILE' are cetainly a band I shall go and see whenever possible.

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