Remember when I said it would get awkward remembering how much money I spent going to gigs when I was a student surviving on a few thousand pound a year? Well this is the third gig out of four I went to in the space of one Autumn term, and I additionally had to buy my housemate Basil a ticket and pay for him to drive me there. Stupid boy.
Nevermind, we’re not here to pontificate on how much money I threw away nearly two decades ago, we’re here to celebrate the majesty of rock, the mystery of roll, and the missed opportunity of a lifetime.
Those of you paying attention might recall that the last Status Quo gig I went to ended with me bemoaning their plan to
a) release a third covers album in seven years
b) call it “Rockin’ All Over The Riffs”
c) have this as the album cover.
Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear.
All the positivity achieved by 2002’s Heavy Traffic album might have been undone had this album ever seen the light of day in this format. But God bless the internet, it was not to be. For the reaction to this news on the Status Quo Message Board was so vitriolic, that the album was renamed to simply Riffs, and the cover was changed to this:
Much better, although it was still a covers album, but that couldn’t be avoided. As I understood it, Universal Music had agreed to release Heavy Traffic on the proviso that the band followed it up with a new covers album. Their reasoning was that Don’t Stop and Famous in the Last Century had sold so well, that a third one would achieve similar success and they would be laughing all the way to the bank of creative hell.
Unfortunately for them, this backfired massively due to the negative reaction to the intitial album format. By the time it was renamed, repackaged and released a year late, no one really cared anymore, and it failed even to crack the top 40 (Heavy Traffic, on the other hand, had hit the top 20).
In theory, of the three covers albums, the concept of this one was definitely my favourite. Whereas Don’t Stop was an overproduced bunch of pop songs and FITLC featured almost exclusively fifties rock and roll standards, Riffs featured stripped back and simple versions of classic rock and punk songs such as ‘Centrefold’ and ‘I Fought the Law’. It even threw in new recordings of Quo’s big three – ‘Rockin All Over The World’, ‘Caroline’ and ‘Whatever You Want’ – for good measure. So it should’ve worked – in so far as these albums ever do.
But actually, it ended up being the least appealing of the three for me. It aimed for a raw, underproduced, live sound, but it just came across as half-assed. It’s almost like the label didn’t care, the fans didn’t care, the producer didn’t care, and the band didn’t care. Funny that.
Fortunately, this meant that when it came to ‘promoting’ the album live, Quo simply named a tour after it and filled the programme with details about it, but actually ignored any of the cover tracks on the record, and no one in the audience minded in the slightest.
As a further result of the rebranding of the album, the tour was being promoted as a continuation of the return to a harder rocking Quo that started with Heavy Traffic. With that in mind, it seems that when planning the tour the band lost their collective minds… in the best way possible.
The first show of the tour, in Guildford, featured a crazy setlist – by Quo standards – with ‘Down Down’ starting the show, medleys in the encore, classic heavy Quo songs like ‘Backwater’, ‘Little Lady’ and ‘Softer Ride’ being thrown back in to prominent positions, and ‘Caroline’ shifted to later in the show. They also started playing ‘Break the Rules’ in full, for the first time that I could remember!
It was – by all accounts – loud, unpredictable and relentless, and it soon became a famous show in modern Quo history among those who were there, or those who wished they had been.
Sadly, someone in the band didn’t agree, and as soon as the very next night, changes were being made that started the fairly sudden process of reverting to a standard 2000’s Quo setlist. And by the time they made it down to Plymouth, it was pretty much the normal format to which I was becoming accustomed.
Fortunately I didn’t know this at the time, having sworn off the message boards in an effort to avoid ruining any surprises. So the little differences I did get were highly welcome as, in particular, a full version of ‘Little Lady’ always goes down well with me, and ‘Paper Plane’ was strangely underplayed around this time, so it was good to see it back.
We were also treated to four songs from the Heavy Traffic album, all in a row again. That seems simultaneously to be a huge compliment to that album from the band, but also a bit of a downer, because playing them back to back and introducing them as a special group of songs, kind of makes them seem like they don’t naturally fit in the setlist, when they blatantly do. It’s also a bit odd to so actively promote an album on the tour for the next album, but I definitely didn’t care about that, as it is just a much better record in every way.
This section of the show also gave me my first ever live experience of the Heavy Traffic track ‘The Oriental’. If you’re unfamiliar with it, I’ll just say that to many of us, it is lyrically troublesome – the opening line is “Her name was Mae Wong, she came from Hong Kong” and it continues much along those lines – but *awkward grimacing emoji* it’s awesome, and I love it. Don’t @ me, bro.
As many Quo fans had expected it would be, it’s a real highlight of the live show, and kind of blew me away the first time I saw them play it, particularly during the epic breakdown, as the the lights blazed and the band surrounded the drum kit, reminiscent of classic Quo. I’m not doing it justice, so just trust me, it’s great, but yeah, I have to kind of ignore the lyrics.
Also around this time, the band started doing a very cool little trick during ‘Gerdundula’, where they play each others guitars. I can’t imagine being able to explain that effectively, so I’ll just post the video and instruct you to enjoy it. Skip to 4:00 if you don’t have the full eight minutes to spare.
Impressive, no? This started as a one-off moment of silliness, then got perfected and stuck in the main set, and then eventually got overdone and became boring and predictable, especially as they seemed to pretend they hadn’t planned it every night. Ah well, on the Riffs tour at least, it was still novel, and really fun to watch.
So I loved this show, of course I did, but once it was over and I found out how the tour had started off, I couldn’t help but feel a bit miffed at what could have been. That Guildford show seemed like it could’ve been a turning point for the unpredictability of the setlists, but it ended up being the opposite, as the band seemed burned by the experience, and never experimented as wildly again.
It didn’t stop me spending each of the next thirteen years wondering if I should travel to random bits of the country to see whatever the first show on the tour was that year though!
- It’s good, but ahhhh it could’ve been great.
That’s all I have to say about that. Thanks for reading. Come back next time, as the Bluetones finally pick a proper Exeter venue, and I embarrass myself massively.