Tuesday, 6 September 2011

Ultimate Hero

Eddie Jobson's U-Z live at the Boerderij, Zoetermeer, The Netherlands, 19-08-2011

Eddie Jobson is a bit of an enigma in progressive rock circles. He has played in some of the genre's most seminal bands, such as Curved Air, Roxy Music and Jethro Tull. Yet he never stayed for more than a few albums, sometimes even appearing only in a music video and a few publicity photographs, as with Yes when he was a member for a very brief time in 1983. In between his membership of these dinosaurs he himself created a completely different beast: the "supergroup" UK.

UK has always been Jobson's most cherished project, probably because it was his own. In all other instances he joined firmly established groups centered around one or more musicians with strong personalities. These patres familias did not always appreciate the young upstart trying to put his own stamp on their group's music or operations. In UK, as the founder and primary songwriter, he was able to a great extent to set the band's course. Yet UK's longevity also did not extend beyond a few years and a mere trio of albums, and after releasing a couple of solo records in the early eighties Jobson more or less disappeared from the public eye.

Fast forward fifteen years. At the end of the last millennium the rumour started floating around that Jobson was working on a new UK album. Names were mentioned - including that of John Wetton, Jobson's significant other in the original group - and working titles were proposed. In the end the UK reunion itself came to nothing except for a few one off shows with Wetton, but in the following years Jobson brought various related projects to fruition. Among these was UKZ, which in Jobson's own words was an endeavour not so much looking back as looking forward, focusing as it did on new material. Jobson next initiated the U-Z project as a vehicle for a comprehensive look back at the UK days of yore. It was with U-Z, which stands for Ultimate Zero, that he visited Zoetermeer's De Boerderij tonight.

U-Z consists of Jobson on keyboards and electric violin, Marco Minnemann on drums, Marc Bonilla on bass and vocals, and Alex Machacek on guitar. Machachek played a headless guitar just like Allan Holdsworth did on the first UK album, thus strengthening the identification with his illustrious predecessor. Bonilla did a good job of interpreting Wetton's distinctive voice, even managing to sound like Greg Lake when he had to during ELP's Bitches Crystal, which was one of a trio of covers played. The others were King Crimson's Red and One More Red Nightmare. Jobson himself explained his reason behind presenting these musical odes thus: "Because we can play them, and other's can't." If this comment leads you to make a positive assessment as to the technical skill of the musicians involved, then you would not be far off. Any group of musicians able to faithfully represent the music of UK can by definition not be of amateur skill, and the band shone especially bright on these occasions. If the sound was at times muddled, this was likely due to the front-of-house engineer's unfamiliarity with the music.

Jobson was seen in front of his keyboard rig as often as behind it, playing his trademark electric violin to great effect. The unique qualities of the instrument are what give the music of UK its distinctive sound and its timelessness. These albums were released in the late seventies but have stood the test of time well, quite unlike their comtemporary brethren of the disco genre. About two thirds of each was played on the night in addition to the aforementioned covers. A collage of Jobson solo material with a definite 80's sound to it and a drum solo rounded out the setlist. Minneman is an amazing drummer and he probably deserved the solo spot, but the drum solo with its lack of melody has never appealed to me. The eight minutes would have been better spent on performing, say, the title track of the Danger Money album instead. But that is a minor complaint, if it even is one.

Eddie Jobson is a genial person and an inspired performer, and he has a knack for surrounding himself with talented musicians. Together they entertained the audience with an evening of nostalgia, that guilty pleasure that we all like to wallow in from time to time. I wouldn't mind doing so again. Presto vivace and reprise, Mr. Jobson!

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