“These three are the tightest of cohorts, seasoned road warriors…”
By Peter Keevil
VATA are a bit of an enigma. To me there are a hard rock act with a foundation forged in the blues yet they have spent a fledgling career to date successfully working the traditional blues circuit. With their new album (Army of Three – contentiously reviewed by Ian Savage here) they have clear potential as a cross-over act in line with Temperance Movement, Rival Sons but with the added advantage of the amazing technical ability of one Virgil Mahon on lead guitar, that places them within the guitar-god category of Bonamassa, Van Halen, Lukather, Kotzen, Meneketti, Montrose et al.
It had been a couple of years since I had last seen them perform so, having enjoyed their new album I made my way to Worcester for the opening date of a lengthy album tour (part 1).
I was impressed by the Marrs Bar. It’s a nice venue, decent beers and security staff that smiled and welcomed (always nice to see). It looks like it can hold about 150/200, has a solid sound system and attracts a good range of original acts whilst underpinned by a cluster of tributes. It would be good to see bands making their way here that are at the same level as an Academy 3, Rock City Basement or Slade Rooms.
The Bromsgrove/Redditch based Army Of Three were revealed from behind the stage screen dead on 9pm and proceeded to deliver a 2hour set (yep, when was the last time you saw a 2 hour set?) jam/rammed/shoe-horn-packed with superb playing and guitar virtuosity of the very highest order.
Playing to a crowd that wore a sizeable number of VA tees, you could tell that these three are the tightest of cohorts, seasoned road warriors; with a musical connection that barely required a glance to bring them out of one of their extended jams, such was their synchronicity.
Hard rocking openers of Take Me Higher and the sassy, Blow To The Head informed us that they had waited long enough to play these songs, having had their album delayed due to the life-threatening illness of producer Chris Tsangarides.
The debut album isn’t neglected but now with a wider repertoire they can cherry-pick from Radium and introduce them like the life-long buddies they are. Backstabber, gives way to the stiletto heeled Give It Up, before the first big freeform breakout of the night arrives during 88.
And here I think, VATA need to decide on their path. There’s absolutely no doubting that Virgil is a six-string darling, he is blessed with the ability of a handful that walk the UK, if not the World. So they have the power to decide whether they want to straddle that cross-over, more lucrative world of hard rock or remain (and its perfectly fine to do so) within the more introspective blues sector of Sayce, JST, Lister, McGregor and Poole. All fine, fine and worth-while troubadours but not ones that will become household names or pack 3,000+ punters.
And the key part to that conundrum? Histrionics, balls out flamboyance, sass and sex. Virgil showed glimpses during the 120 minutes on stage, especially when ripping up Hendrix’s Are You Experienced as an encore but in order to break out of the slightly drier Blues scene and get people raving, he needs to lead from the front. The demi-gods like Blackmore, Hendrix, Page, Rhoads, had their introspective moments, lost in their own world on stage. But it was usually while dry humping their strat against the cab, or wringing every last drop of sustain on that top note.
It’s there in spades for VATA; just witnessing set closer Free was proof enough and had me grinning from ear to ear like a demented Cheshire.
What a glorious position to be in but from my classic rock corner I hope that they do unleash that beast; it will be a joy to behold and quite possibly elevate the West Midlands rock scene to levels not seen for decades.
Take Me Higher
Blow To The Head
Give it up
Through The Night
Low Down and dirty
Are You Experienced?
Virgil and The Accelerators play Derby Flowerpot on 8th November and The Robin, Bilston on 12th November.