Before I go any further, let me say that Her Ladyship and I are serious Free fans. If I had seen this concept announced maybe 20 years ago, when Rodgers had Geoff Whitehorn et al in tow, I would have sold a kidney for a ticket. But we saw Bad Company in Sheffield in 2002, supported by the Wetton-less Asia, and it was embarrassing. PR standing on the piano for an ‘All Right Now’ singalong. We said it was the last time…and it was. So we did not go to this gig, especially with a price tag of 60 quid or so. The review is on the basis of an audience recording so here goes.
The guitar starts up and the man makes his entrance to wild applause (did Free ever do that!?). He starts ‘Little bit of Love’ and the drummer bludgeons his way in. Did he think the drummer in Free was John Bonham? The guitar solo has a bum note that was, ironically, very Koss-like! ‘Ride on Pony’ is given a similar heavy-handed treatment.
Rodgers says’ I’m sure Koss is up there smiling down’. He is probably shaking his head too. He neglected to mention the other dead original of course. ‘Travelling Man’ has PR forgetting the words and a less-than-subtle outro. ‘Be my Friend’ shows that Rodgers has forsaken his youthful rasp and replaced it with a crooner-like delivery. And for those of you who still fill up listening to Paul Kossoff on the ‘Free Live’ version, this is not for you.
According to Rodgers, ‘Soon I will be Gone’ was never played live. Those of you out there with live recordings from the Tetsu and Rabbit era may beg to differ. ‘ Song of Yesterday’ suffers from being too heavy and ‘Travellin’ in Style’ could have done with a bit more of an acoustic feel. First singalong of the night (again, did Free indulge in singalongs?). I only have one live version of ‘Love you So’, where PR goes a bit Mariah Carey. One of my favourite Free songs, which should be left fairly and squarely on ‘Highway’
‘Come together in the morning’ was a regular feature in the Free Mk 2 set, before it got butchered for one of the Free compilations (by the producer). ‘My Brother Jake’ featured an attempt at recreating Fraser’s jaunty piano and Kossoff’s minimal contribution (by then he was merely ‘the guitarist’). Another singalong. ‘Stealer’ started out promisingly, and the guitarist wisely avoided the bone-cruncher chords that Kossoff used at times.
Then it is ‘Mr Big’. For me, there are certain rock songs that should remain with the original perpetrators, and this is one of them. It was effectively a tour-de-force for Fraser and Kossoff. See also ‘And you and I’, ’21st Century Schizoid Man’ and ‘Sister Ray’. Good topic for the pub tonight. ‘Woman’ was clumsy and too fast. ‘Fire and Water’ had a similar ‘feel’…all the right notes in the right order but soul-less. And Rodgers still not out of 2nd gear really. Main set finishes with ‘The Hunter’, taken at the ‘Tons of Sobs’ speed rather than the ‘Free Live’ tempo.
First encores are ‘Wishing Well’ and ‘All Right Now’. I can’t even listen to the originals now, having seen every ‘Classic Rock’ pub covers group slaughter them. Both with obligatory singalongs, of course. Second encores are ‘Walk in my Shadow’, again at ‘Tons of Sobs’ speed and a fairly harmless ‘Crossroads’. And that was the 90 minutes worth.
When I saw the set-list, I couldn’t have argued with it, but having listened to the show, I reckon’ Heartbreaker’ would have been a fitting finale, sadly. ‘Free Spirit’ was exactly what it wasn’t. The right notes, mainly, but devoid of the spirit! The back-up group were basically Deborah Bonham’s group. I am not a fan of tribute acts at all, but I reckon Rodgers would have done far better using Freeway, whom we saw many years ago at Cambridge Rock Festival.
I have put the recording onto 2 cds, with a half hour or so of PR doing an acoustic set in Madrid from 2002 (including ‘All Right Now’!). If any of our festival chums want it, it is yours, for ‘free’! I won’t be playing it again.