It was the second time I had dragged my girlfriend to see Phil Mogg, the first being the Covenant show in Manchester last year...........
The support band "Candyheads" (with ex-PIL guitarist Ted Chau) came on around 9pm and played for 45 minutes , their pop/punk style started to grow on me by the end of the set, especially a surprisingly good interpretaion of ELO's Mr Blue Sky..
By 10pm the crowd had swelled to about 60 and people began to edge towards the front of the stage (which was tiny , the stage floor being elevated about a foot off the floor and the ceiling inches above the heads of the band members) with band and audiences faces within several inches (Phil commented several times during the gig he had never been up this close before).
A roadie brought 3 bottles of Becks out which I assumed was one each for the band members at the front of the stage (but they were all for Phil!) and then the band walked with Phil giving a look to his girlfriend stageright of "here we go again", but it very quickly became obvious they we here to do business- The more I see of Phil Mogg, the more I admire him - in front of 60 or so people and giving 100%, even more than the remarkable way he handled Manchester last year- a true professional.
They blasted through $O4 and Chocolate Box numbers (Driven, Overload,Song Keeps Coming, Too Close To The Sun,Dancing With St Peter and Muddy's Gold) before Phil asked the crowd "didn't Phil Lynott's mother used to have a bed and breakfast here? " and then launched into Jerusalem. By this time the crowd were ecstatic (probably like me -not quite comprehending the fact that here was Phil Mogg in a pub in Ashton - and rocking the place!)
The guitarist Jeff Kollman has grown on me since the last Mogg/Way album and seeing him live showed a player of more depth. I was not cringing looking at some drunken fool let off by the occasional flash of brilliance - this was somebody who really does contribute to quality. He showed the kind of mature and intelligent playing you would expect from somebody twice his age- a combination of virtuosity without arrogance demonstrating the many shades and styles within Dancing with St Peter -with just the right amount of heavy riffing you expect from a Mogg production. A fine balance required but one that Jeff Kollman seemed to achieve with apparent ease ("Too Close To The Sun" was my highlight of the night - Shane Galaas almost destroyed his drumset playing so hard). "We're going to do some UFO numbers now!" teased Mogg as the riff to Mother Mary started. I know Schenker is unique but this was a joy to watch - the band really enjoying themselves and a real positive vibe was running through the place.
Chris Maloney on bass did a superb job of keeping the energy levels at 11 on the dial (he can sing too, check out his website), and Mark Renk On keyboards (once they finally turned him up) kept the foundation for Kollman to work around and contributed some very fitting and not overbearing backing vocals- especially on Song Keeps Coming.
Next up was Bad on Bad and then Beautiful Friend which although played on ales paul gold top should have been played acoustically as they would have carried it off well - I heard afterwards that there was no room in the tour van for another guitar!
Then it was classic UFO time:TH TH and Lights Out for which Phil did his trademark stick -the -microphone-into-the-crowd-to-sing-the-chorus bit to everyones great delight, and then it was over. The band left the stage to rapturous applause.
After a brief interval and once a chant had been decided (UFO,$O4, "Play some more" etc) the band came back on to do Mystery Train. .Kollman showed again that he was in nobody's shadow - the intro to mystery train could have been a blinkered blues Chapman replica, but was instead a perfectly complementing jazz opening to the song. Another quick break and it was back for the last time with Shoot Shoot that they only rehearsed after a fan's suggestion in Hull.
And then it was all over as quickly as it started. I have never seen so much energy, directed to so small a crowd My girlfriend turned to me and asked "Where are they playing next?"