Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Tap into Wembley

After waiting for nearly 25 years I finally got to see one of my favourite rock bands last night - the mighty Spinal Tap (Simply 'Tap' to their fans).

Despite their early success (initially as The Thamesmen) they never hit the bigtime in the UK as much as they did in the US and Japan, and tours have been few and far between.

Tap now join Rush, ZZ Top and The Police on the list of bands I thought I might not get to see live but finally have.

Having made the brave (it's a fine line between clever and stupid) decision to do a 'One Night Only' World Tour at Wembley Stadium, just a few miles from their origins in Squatney in London's East End, there was a real sense of anticipation as the metal hordes gathered for the gig. (They did get to do a short warm up set at a smallscale Somerset festival at the weekend).

Tap have made two previous visits to Wembley, to play Live Earth and the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert, and both in the bigger venue of Wembley Stadium. On these occasions they played to 80,000 people live with countless millions more watching at home. Their performances at both events were considered 'extraordinary'.

Support last night was from The Folksmen, the traditional US folk three-piece whose return to fame was documented in the recent documentary, or, if you will, folkumentray, A Mighty Wind.

They played a short but accomplished set featuring several classics from their past including their big hit 'Old Joe's Place', the very moving 'Blood on the Coals' (most US folk songs are about either mining disasters or train crashes, this song covers both eventualities) and an enjoyable cover of the Stones' 'Start Me Up'.

Unfortunately Marty Shrubb was just introducing their last song, an epic about the Spanish Civil War, when a roadie came onstage and told them they had run out of time.

They were warmly received despite the level of anticipation for Tap.

The stage was cleared ready for Tap's set and after a while the call went out over the PA for Tap to come to the stage. For some reason there was a bit of a delay and the backstage cameras made it clear why - the Tap were still busy playing video games and apparantly hadn't heard the call.

We were then entertained by the video of 'Majesty of Rock' and, after a further unexplained delay, the band appeared on stage to a raptuous welcome.

A wide ranging set followed including the well known tracks that featured in the 'This Is Spinal Tap' documentary, or, if you will, rockumentary: 'Rock N Rocll Creation', 'Tonight I'm Gonna Rock You' and 'Hell Hole'.

They also went back to their routes to perform the old Thamesmen tracks (a pre-Tap name of the band) 'Listen To the Flower People', 'Cups and Cakes' and 'Gimme Some Money' as well as David and Nigel's first ever song, 'All The Way Home'.

They played a 'funked up' version of 'Sex Farm' which, if you closed your eyes, could have the Red Hot Chilli Peppers.

A real treat was their first ever performance of 'Saucy Jack', the first (and so far only) track from their musical tribute to Jack The Ripper.

The response from the audience was ecstatic throughout, but went to a whole new level when the opening chords of 'Stonehenge' rang out. the bands performance was spot on, but they were once again let down by poor stage management. The sight of two dwarves and a roadie trying to help erect an inflatable 12 foot high Stonehenge was, frankly, laughable, and the only real bad point of the night. David St Hubbins was visibly irritated by this incident, but it didn't put him off his stride.

The Tap core of St Hubbins, Nigel Tufnel and Derek Smalls was as tight as ever, and their current keyboad play and drummer are top notch.

Tap have influenced many a musician in recent years and there was a huge cheer when the legendary Keith Emerson joined the band onstage for an excellent rendition of 'Short & Sweet'. He was clearly delighted to get to play with some of his heroes.

They then finished with their all time classic 'Big Bottom' with guests (all on bass) Justin Hawkins (The Darkness/Hot Leg), Andy Scott (The Sweet) and Freddie Washington (Steely Dan et al) which led to much singing along.

After such a fantastic and lively set it was no surprise that they were called back for encores.

The first saw Keith Emerson return to the stage for 'Heavy Duty' and for the second encore we were treated with the rarely played title track of their 1992 (and 15th!) album 'Break Like the Wind'.

All in all it was a great gig and the crowd loved it. Shame they don't tour more often.

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