Wednesday, August 3, 2022

When Rivers Meet - Flying Free Tour Live

Right down to its rather prosaic title, Flying Free Tour Live comes over like a rough and ready, off the cuff, unvarnished document of When Rivers Meet in performance.  Sonically it's pretty raw, sounding too ambient at times, a bit unbalanced at others.  It also feels very much “in the moment”, right down to Grace Bond having an unfortunately timed fit of the giggles during the sensitive acoustic number ‘Don’t Tell Me Goodbye’.  So for those who caught them on this tour it will doubtless be a great memento.  But how does it sound to someone, like me, who wasn’t able to make any of these shows?
Heads down, no nonsense, not quite mindless boogie
Pic by Paul May
Well, there’s no denying the visceral thrill of the opening ‘Did I Break The Law’, as the tension built by the churning guitar, the whomping, metronomic kick drum, and low-pitched verse, is met by a whooping crowd.  Then with a shout of “Here we go!” Grace Bond braces all concerned for her hollered, wordless chorus.  It’s one of their best songs, and makes for an electric opening.
The following ‘Walking On The Wire’ is less of an out and out belter, but still captures some of the key elements of their repertoire, with a riff that could be out of Jimmy Page’s ‘Slide Guitar 101’ course, aided and abetted by pounding drums, and embellished by intriguing slide mandolin breaks and a chant-along chorus.  There’s more of this kinda thing on the likes of ‘Free Man’, which is all about the grinding slide riff, and the ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’ stylings of ‘Lost & Found’, with its stop-time riffing and the urgent vocal from Grace Bond on the chorus, while Roger Inniss emulates the elastic bass of Adam Bowers from the Saving Grace studio version.  Meanwhile the slide grind of ‘Innocence Of Youth’ suggests Aaron Bond has listened to ‘In My Time Of Dying’ more than a few times, and if it feels a bit stop-start and disjointed that doesn’t stop the crowd getting all riled up by it.
But if this is their “go to” foundational style, it’s some of their other leanings that give them satisfying range.  There’s a disarming, retro feel to the excellent harmonies on ‘My Babe Says That He Loves Me’.  The aforementioned ‘Don’t Tell Me Goodbye’ is Americana, via the Moptops’ ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ perhaps, simple but delivered with feeling and more convincing harmonies, and inspires some wistful singing along.  But ‘Bury My Body’ is even better, a seriously good song in a folkie vein – notwithstanding the ill-advised wobbly whistling on the intro – that’s one of the absolute highlights on offer.  Drummer James Fox switches instruments to provide delicate backing on ‘Tomorrow’, which is perhaps less subtle than on the studio version.  The crowd lap it up though, with at least one fella whooping his appreciation – though if I’d been there “in the moment” I might have been thinking “STFU, dude”.  Bah, humbug.
Down the stretch they could be stronger.  ‘Kissing The Sky’ starts off hinting at funk with its twanging bass, then jolts along in stop-start fashion, encompassing a tasty slice of slide mandolin – or is it violin?  ‘Want Your Love’ is also a bit thin, in spite of the punkish edge to the guitar intro and Grace Bond’s “blues’n’twos” fiddle break.  But I reckon different song choices would have landed some stronger punches.
Still, while Dylan and Hendrix might well give each other knowing looks over the riff to ‘Testify’, the moaning, Yardbirds-like backing vocals are still a nice twist, and Grace Bond’s vocal is satisfyingly explosive to bring down the curtain.
When Rivers Meet have certainly flown free over the last couple of years, winning awards and garnering awards.  But I do start to wonder: is that bare-bones Zep sound they lean on enough to let them soar higher; or do they need to strengthen their musical wings to avoid falling to earth?  Meantime, Flying Free Tour Live is an enjoyable souvenir of where they are right now – and Grace Bond’s voice continues to be something to behold.
 
Flying Free Tour Live
 is out now on One Road Records, and can be ordered here.

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