Monday, July 23, 2018

Wizard's Consort and Blackmore's Night

Great friggin' concert. Dilly dilly! (I've always wanted to say that.)

It's been about 10 years since the last time I saw Blackmore's Night live, and it was way too long. The thing is, they don't play formally announced shows here on Long Island all that often. Although they live somewhere on the Island (hell, Michele Monte used to be their house sitter when they were on the road), and they do have a following here, for some reason, they're way  more popular in Europe, especially in Germany. So they spend most of their summers playing German castle tours. (Wouldn't you?)

I think the last time I saw them was at the Westbury Music Fair, while John Blenn was still working there. As I recall, on that occasion, Ritchie got pissed at the venue because they had a hard ending time, and he still felt like playing. (For being a venue I love, there often seems to be a lot of issues between that venue and the artists. There was the dust-up with Blackmore, the time The Church stormed off the stage because of the bad sound, and the recent sound issues for the first part of Retro Futura. Then again, my guess is that Mr. Blackmore can also be difficult when he wants to be, so I guess it was a wash). I also saw them at least once at The Patchogue Theater.

But some of the most enjoyable Blackmore's Night shows have the unscheduled ones. Like a lot of couples, Ritchie and Candice like to go out to dinner. But unlike a lot of couples, they always seem to have a few special places where they go, eat some food, Ritchie drinks some adult beverages, and then they play an off-the-cuff show. They used to be famous for doing this at the old Normandy Inn in the Oakdale/Bohemia area, and at the Moonstruck Cafe in Nesconset, both of which are no longer around. (I saw them play a set in between sets of a Crystal Rose show at the Moonstruck, on a rainy night, as one of about eight or ten people in the audience).

I was really bummed that I didn't get to see them last time they played the Patchogue Theater in October of 2016, so I made up my mind to see them for this show. I was flying solo tonight -- it was my turn to get out of the house. (Denise and our friend Rich went into the city last night for a Depheche Mode/'80s cruise.)

The show had a scheduled 7PM start, and for once, even with the traffic coming back from the Hamptons, I timed it just right. I was lucky enough to find a spot in one of the nearby parking lots tonight, so I didn't have to climb all the way down the hill and back up again to park on the street -- only down and up half of the hill.

I was in my seat at about 10 minutes to showtime, enjoying the Renaissance's Turn of the Cards album on the house speakers until the opening band came out. Wizard's Consort are a strange band. They're a 3-piece that no one seems to know a lot about. I think they're friends of the Blackmores, but they don't seem to have any albums out, or a web page, or any of that stuff. In fact, just about the only mention of them I could find on the web was an article, reviewing a Blackmore's Night show for which they opened, which commented on the fact that they seem to have no Internet presence whatsoever. It's like they're totally off the grid.

They came out precisely at 7PM, all dressed in black. Their garb was peculiar. One player looked more like a pilgrim than a man from Resaissance England. (I wish I could have gotten a better look at them. But for some reason, the video screens didn't show either of the bands tonight.) They featured a cellist, a player playing some kind of electric-acoustic stringed instrument (an electric lute?), and a man who played the keyboards with his hands and percussion with his feet. They did an all-instrumental set that ran about 40 minutes long. Their music was strange -- it was definitely renaissance-influenced, but dark -- more castle dungeon than village square. Most of what they played was probably traditional music. But every so often, they'd play a little bit, or all, of something familiar, in their own medieval style. At one point, the crowd stirred as they drifted into Zeppelin's "Kashmir". A few minutes later, they were playing "Bouree" (made famous in our times by Jethro Tull, but of course, they lifted it from Bach). A little while after that, they played "Greensleeves/What Child Is This?". And towards the end of their set, they played a version of "Paint It Black" that started as a dirge, then rocked out.

They were pretty well received by the crowd. There were a couple of young women in front of me who chatted through their set, but I think this was OK. I think the Blackmores sent them out there kind of like the background entertainment at the king's banquet, to provide some music as people entered, drank, and whatever, until it was time for the night's main entertainment to begin. Overall, though, they got a lot of applause, and the crowd was more attentive than they often are for an opening band.

At just about 8:15PM, Blackmore's Night hit the stage, to "Do You Hear the People Sing" from Les Mis. The house was mostly full. The floor area was filled with folding chairs for tonight's show. I was sitting upstairs in the back, in the third row on the far right, in what was listed as an obstructed view seat. I didn't so much mind, because I've seen the band before -- I know what they look like. But it was a moot point anyway, because although they played as a 7-piece band, for some reason, they didn't have a musician on the blocked side of the stage -- most of the band huddled together on the other side. (I had almost the same seat for King Crimson last year, just a few rows further back. But unfortunately, on that night, the one musician the obstruction blocked was Robert Fripp! Grr!).

They started the night with "Dancer and the Moon", and I noticed immediately that Candice's vocals were a little drowned out in the mix. It also sounded like she wasn't in her best voice -- not bad, but not as great as I remembered. I needn't have worried, though. By the second song, the sound man had his stuff together, and Candice's voice warmed up enough to click into gear. And man, she was deadly for the rest of the night. I've often written that I believe Candice Night has one of the most beautiful voices in rock today. But I've always been especially amazed at how powerful her voice is, and how accurate she is live. (As a songer herself, Denise often hears the tiny vocal flaws that someone else might miss. But even she has always been very impressed by Candice.) The band played for two-and-a-half hours, and performed more than twenty songs without a break, and she never missed a beat. It was a show to remember.

In between songs, the Blackmores did their usual husband/wife comedy act, playfully bickering with one another, to the crowd's amusement. (Candice: "Prior to forming Blackmore's Night, Ritchie had a reputation for being a cranky rock star. But it wasn't his fault. He was pre-minstrel!"; Ritchie: If a man speaks in the woods, and there isn't a woman there to hear it, is he still wrong?"). They came out with some sort of setlist in mind, but Ritchie drove Candice crazy by constantly letting her introduce a song, then changing the setlist on the fly. But it was all good. The band was in a great mindset, relaxed, smoking hot, and obviously happy to be playing in front of a home crowd.

In celebration of their 21st year as a band, they played at least a song or two from each of their studio albums (except for their Christmas album). Some of my favorite moments were a ravishingly beautiful version of "Ghost of a Rose", a highly energetic rendition of "Fires at Midnight", and a slow acoustic cover of the first song I ever heard of theirs, Renaissance's "Ocean Gypsy". (At one point while the rest of the band was offstage, the keyboard player and the drummer also combined for an instrumental version of Renaissance's "Running Hard", after which the keyboard player also left the stage while the drummer did an extended drum solo.) At the request of the Blackmores' six-year-old son, screaming from the right side gallery, they also played an abbreviated acoustic version of one of the tracks that first put Ritchie Blackmore on the map as a rock legend -- Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water". And a couple of times, both their son and their daughter (who looks to be about eight or nine years old) joined them on the stage to dance with Candice during some of the livelier numbers. This was definitely one of my favorite concerts of the year so far.

I was a little surprised that they didn't play two of their usual staples, "Renaissance Faire" and "Past Times With Good Company". But I've heard them play both of those songs live before, and I really couldn't complain -- they played such a great selection tonight, and I was so happy to hear them play "Ghost of a Rose" and "Ocean Gypsy", that it was all good.

It's been a pretty good last ten days for live music for me. I got to hear three of my Top 25 Artists of All Time. First there was Belinda Carisle (The Go-Go's) at Retro Futura; then Yes; and now Blackmore's Night. Life is good!

For last night's setlist, go to