Live Music + Gig Reviews

Arthur Lee + The Yards @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London

2 April 2004

The lot of a support band can be an unforgiving one. Though the pilgrims of Love ( Mills & Boon – probably) are in attendance to see their chosen ’60s oracle Arthur Lee, they show distinct forbearance throughout the performance of The Yards. Ex-Seahorses vocalist Chris Helme’s new group of bell-bottom beat-sters take the potentially thankless task of supporting an officially endorsed legend with a smile on their faces and rip through their so-far brief collection of material such as The Devil Is Alive And Well In DC and Only Myself To Blame.

The Yards favour sweeping anthems, heart-on-the sleeve passions and a decidedly High Street brand of alt-rock, but a definite improvement on the parochial sound of Helme’s former band. Even if there’s a strong feeling that we’ve Verve-d these kind of ardent atmospherics before, Helm’s crew are showbiz enough to crowd-please with a stompy cover of Buffalo Springfield‘s Mr. Soul. The Yards do their best for a partisan audience and are warmly rewarded for their efforts, but ultimately it’s traditional fare.

The traditional is what you may expect from Arthur Lee. Coming to the end of an exhaustive UK tour, Arthur and his pick-up version of the Love band are augmented by the Stockholm String ‘n’ Horns, providing the embellishment that raised the bar of Psychedelia on the Forever Changes album back in the Summer of Love of ’67.

Yet if some critics may snipe that performing an album from beginning to end may be an exercise in archaeology, this amazingly vital performance from Lee and his well-driven band quickly blunt any poison pens out there. If the run-through from Alone Again Or to You Set The Scene is as familiar as Bob Pepper’s iconic cover-art, the energetic Lee delivers the 37 year-old material with the precocious brio of a child prodigy augmented with the self-assurance of an old pro.

Bedecked in black denim and swish alligator shoes, Lee’s lean and mean figure belies his tender years, but the shades may hide a multitude of sins. Veteran of two prison sentences and occasional victim of the familiar excesses of rock ‘n’ roll, it’s been a strange rehabilitation for Lee since his release for firearm offences in 2002. Having been virtually encamped in the UK since then, Lee found himself with the dubious accolade of being honoured by Parliament for “the best album ever”, where numerous elected Brit politicos, including Tony Banks and Harriet Harman, queued up to meet King Arthur and gush their respects. But don’t let that put you off.

Live, Forever Changes proves to be a song-cycle undimmed by the intervening years. The unfolding vision of Lee’s masterpiece owes much to the diverse textures provided by the filigree strings and Latin horns as it does to Lee’s playful imagery, and the Love pretenders on-stage are all readily up to the task.

The clarity of Lee’s voice also illuminates the prescient quality of the Forever Changes tumbling imagery. Lines like “the news of today will be the movies of tomorrow” (A House Is Not A Motel) and “they’re locking them up today / I wonder who it will be tomorrow / You or me?” (The Red Telephone) ring out with contemporary legitimacy.

There’s just enough time for Lee to return and rock through some of the less baroque aspects of the Love catalogue such as Seven And Seven Is and My Flash On You, though the Love lovers were fair baying for My Little Red Book. But the otherwise gracious Arthur Lee and his formidable band of players had gone. For every happy hello there will be goodbye.

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Arthur Lee + The Yards @ Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London