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Progressive Rock CD Reviews

UK

Live In Boston

Review by Bruce Stringer

As one of the hardest working live acts in its day, it comes as no surprise that there were a number of radio show broadcasts made during UK’s short-lived existence. Besides featuring a stellar line-up of some of the best progressive rock musicians of the day (including ex-King Crimson and Yes members), the dominance of multitasking musical prodigy Eddie Jobson advanced the group into creative areas that pushed the envelope years ahead of its late ‘70s contemporaries. 

This live recording from The Paradise Theatre in Boston in September 1978 has been released in Japan with a mock, mini LP cardboard cover and liner notes in Japanese. The recording quality is excellent, compared to other live recordings of the day, including those recorded for radio broadcast. As it is a Japanese release, the conclusion drawn from the liner notes is that this was indeed recorded for radio use and that great care has been taken to retain the integrity of the band’s performance and the enigma surrounding it.

The audience reaction on this CD is suitably impressive – as anybody lucky enough to experience UK live in concert would have been in for something special. With a selection of newer, unheard material alongside the debut album tracks, UK’s live set list is varied and complimentary. Other, non-album tracks made it live, yet failed to appear on the future studio release due to the lineup shift (i.e. “Forever Until Sunday” and – according to the CD booklet of this release –  “The Sahara Of Snow,” both of which appear on the Bruford album, One Of A Kind). This is a “must have” for any UK fan, especially considering this is the 30th anniversary of the group and Jobson’s recent announcement of a new offshoot group from the UK family tree. Here’s hoping, also, that some film footage will surface of this truly amazing band and UK will be regarded in its proper place in the annals of the world of progressive rock.

This review is available in book format (hardcover and paperback) in Music Street Journal: 2008  Volume 5 at lulu.com/strangesound.

Track by Track Review
Alaska
Jumping right into the show, an abbreviated introduction of “Alaska” has Jobson creating textural passages intent on producing images of the frozen, white landscape. The atmosphere seems on the tense side and the recording seems to fade in but this merely augments the volatile mixture. The synthesizer sounds are broad and textural, not dissimilar to the mid-70s Pink Floyd layering, but Jobson takes to the whole moody, thematic avenue with a chainsaw and conquers any wayward somberness. It’s a staple instrumental, short and sweet.
Time To Kill
This direct segue from “Alaska” has an intensity that really defined this lineup of UK. Jobson’s violin solo is ethereal and might draw comparisons to Jean-Luc Ponty, but the arrangement is far more dramatic and building in tension. There is rawness to the backing (thanks to a few slip-ups between Holdsworth and Wetton) but this only adds to the dynamic nature of the performance. The verse sections are common pop-rock but the instrumentation manages to take the arrangement to new heights. This is a great solid live number that brings early attention to the amazing chemistry between this British foursome.
The Only Thing She Needs

UK, as a group, has never shied away from odd time signatures and staccato syncopation – and this track is no exception. Ironically, the studio version of this was on the later Danger Money LP (with Terry Bozzio on drums), so to hear Allan Holdsworth and Bill Bruford filling out the sound in a slightly different – and generally more relaxed – arrangement is always interesting. Holdsworth’s solo is very typical of what he would be known for in his solo career and this is a great teaser for what was to come! There is even a funky piano break with Wetton, Bruford and Jobson letting the chemistry take over. The sheer dynamics of this band were what made them and this track sufficiently demonstrates the obvious artistry, as well as the less obvious flurries of brilliance.

Carrying No Cross
Again, another track to be previewed from the as-yet-unfinished follow-up studio album to the iconic self-titled debut album, “Carrying No Cross” has many of the developmental passages that would allow spatial interplay in a live context. Jobson’s multi-layered piano and keyboard parts play well off Bruford’s bass drum parts, although some of the thematic ideas would not reach their dynamic potential until Terry Bozzio entered the line-up (and guitar great Allan Holdsworth departed). However, some of the tighter moments are uncannily tight and allow the guys to shine: John Wetton’s bass playing – the most under-rated element in the band – underpins the other-worldly syncopated change (-his vocals aren’t too shabby either!). Coming to a close at just under ten minutes, this is an excellent preview of things to come in the studio for UK.
Thirty Years
This slower number, penned by Wetton, Jobson and Bruford, has some excellent, moody synthesizer work from Jobson who, by this time, had mastered the Yamaha CS-80 in a compositional as well as technical live sense. The bass end of the spectrum is incredible thanks to the brooding analog synth that’s better felt than heard! There are some astounding passages of brilliant quality and playing that rival the studio version. Being typical of Bill Bruford, his drumming has a laid back feel although, on closer examination, his bass pedal work defies the logically straight snare and hi-hat format. Considering the relaxed compositional moments, this stands well against the harder edged passages.
Presto Vivace – In The Dead Of Night
A piece like “Presto Vivace” is an impressive vehicle for Jobson’s superior keyboard work and tightly bound backing, thanks to the Bruford-Wetton rhythm section. Even in a live context, this and the following number totally outstrip what UK’s contemporaries were up to at this point; Yes’ “Tormato” album is a great example. In many ways, while bands of this period were trying to compete with, deny, or out-thrash the punk movement UK headed further into so-called “prog” territory. “In The Dead Of Night” is a great live number and, probably, UK’s most famous piece (-just check YouTube for some interesting cover versions of this and other UK numbers!)
Ceasar’s Palace Blues
This excellent song is a personal favorite and I was totally blown away when I received a copy of this CD and found that it was the closing track, this being a number that was not fully arranged at this point. Keeping in mind that anybody familiar with the official UK releases would already be accustomed to the uber-skin thumping of the brilliant US drummer Terry Bozzio on the Danger Money LP and the live Night After Night album, this version has a more relaxed manner, typical of a Bruford-esque jam. In this half-time groove, some of Jobson’s creativity fails to reach its true potential (due partly to Holdsworth’s, at times, misplaced guitar work and Bruford’s inability / disinterest in pushing the feel to a double time pace). That aside, it is great to hear how this immensely entertaining 5/4 tune developed from such humble beginnings and that Jobson and Wetton were already steering towards a common, more technical and tight direction away from their two band mates. This potential would be realized on a grander scale when Bozzio entered the band shortly thereafter forming an intricately musical cohesiveness in what could possibly have been the last great prog rock trio.
 
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