Review by Paul Quinton
FM have been touring their Heroes and Villains album since May last year, starting in the UK, and taking in festivals, a European trek with the Electric Boys, and ending with several more UK gigs to round things off, finally ending with this show in Oxford. Having been fortunate enough to see them a few times during the tour, the band have been putting in some superb performances, including what I consider to be one of the single best shows I’ve ever seen at The Robin, on the first leg of the tour. By all accounts, they’ve been attracting some decent crowds in the UK, and there was a good sized queue waiting outside the Academy, and the venue was pretty full when the evening’s entertainment began.
There hasn’t been a single support band on the tour, those duties have been split between Romeo’s Daughter, No Hot Ashes and the great Bernie Marsden, playing a solo acoustic set, and as luck would have it, it was Bernie who graced us with his presence in Oxford, and judging by the terrific reception when he was introduced, he remains a hugely popular figure. As he said himself, he’s always been associated with the Blues, and he emphasised this by starting with Leadbelly’s ‘Lining Track’. Naturally, there were Whitesnake songs in the set too, a terrific ‘Trouble’ accompanied by Bernie’s David Coverdale anecdotes, while at the same time poking fun at his own tendency to name drop. He mentioned that when he turned up late to one recording session, the band had already written ‘Ain’t Gonna Cry No More’, but he’d countered that by producing his own ‘Fool For Your Loving’. Nevertheless he gave his own version of ‘‘Ain’t Gonna Cry No More’, and it suited this format perfectly. During the set he alternated between 6- and 12-string guitars, and throughout his playing was sublime, and a delight to listen to, but it should also be mentioned that he also sang really well, confirming my belief that he’s always been a much underrated singer as well as such a fine guitarist. He finished with ‘Ain’t No Love In The Heart Of The City’, ending a great and too short set of nostalgia, warmth and fine music. If he comes your way, solo or with a band, go and see him, you won’t regret it.
When FM began their set, with the first track from the last album, and established set opener for this tour, ‘Digging Up Dirt’, they seemed to be bang on form, particularly when they effortlessly went into earlier songs like ‘I Belong To The Night’ and ‘Don’t Stop’. But when, as regularly done on this tour, they slowed things down a little for the ballad ‘Closer To Heaven’, it seemed to take a little of the impetus out of the set, and the crowd, that already hadn’t been the loudest or most vociferous I’d heard at an FM show, seemed to get a little flat. Not even a tremendous ‘Let Love Be The Leader’ roused them and it wasn’t until drummer Pete Jupp began the intro to one of the band’s most loved songs ‘Frozen Heart’, that things really livened up again, as the crowd joined in on the opening verse.
The band had made one significant change to the setlist since their show at Stourbridge’s River Rooms in November. It was a surprise to discover that the mighty ‘Crosstown Train’ had been dropped from the set, but as Steve Overland explained, they’d had so many requests to include ‘Someday (You’ll Come Running)’, from the Tough It Out album, that despite that fact that he wasn’t particularly fond of the song himself, the band decided to go along with the requests. It was good to hear the song live again, but, unlike most of the band’s older songs, it did feel slightly out of step with the band’s sound today.
After that, though, it was a sprint to the finish. A rocking ‘Burning My Heart Down’, followed by ‘Tough It Out’ and ‘That Girl’, with the crowd now loud and clear on the choruses, and finally to end the main set, a blistering ‘Bad Luck.’ The band didn’t waste any time in coming out for the encores, beginning with Overland singing ‘Story Of My Life’, accompanied only by Jem Davis on piano. As ever, I’m convinced that this man is genetically incapable of doing a bad show. Then it was time for Davis to strap on his Van Halen-striped keytar, for an exuberant run through ‘The Other Side Of Midnight’, again with the now fully livened up crowd in full voice.
Bernie Marsden has appeared with the band a few times before, most notably at the Cambridge Rock festival a couple of years ago, so it wasn’t a surprise when he joined the band onstage tonight. However, where before the song played has been ‘Here I Go Again’, a guaranteed crowd pleaser, there was a real surprise tonight as we got an absolutely scorching ‘Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues’, with Bernie and Jim Kirkpatrick trading some fiery licks, watched I might add by former Whitesnake bassist Neil Murray from a vantage point near the merch stand, and while it will always be Coverdale’s song, good grief, did Overland sing the pants off it. Finally ‘Here I Go Again’ ended the show, as expected, to the delight of the crowd yet again.
While this show didn’t really come close to the heights of that monumental show at the Robin, FM were still their predictably brilliant selves on the night, delivering an excellent set, as they always seem to do. They now take something of a break, before taking up the support slot on Heart’s brief UK tour in July, including a date at Brum’s Symphony Hall on July 3rd. Steve Overland and Ann Wilson on one bill is just about a melodic rock fan’s dream. I can’t wait.
- Digging Up Dirt
- I Belong To The Night
- Don’t Stop
- Closer To Heaven
- Let Love Be The Leader
- Life Is A Highway
- Frozen Heart
- Tough Love
- Someday (You’ll Come Running)
- Burning My Heart Down
- Tough It Out
- That Girl
- Bad Luck
- The Story Of My Life
- The Other Side Of Midnight
- Walking In The Shadow Of The Blues
- Here I Go Again