Concert Review: Manticore w/ Warchild @ The Strand, Hudson Falls 11/11/23
It was an evening of prog rock tribute madness at the venerable Strand Theatre in Hudson Falls last Saturday night. Headlining was Manticore – the tribute to Emerson, Lake and Palmer. In support, special guests Warchild – Jethro Tull tribute.
As the opening song noted, “Nothing is Easy,” and that certainly applied to the music being attempted by the brave and, some would say, foolhardy souls on display. You must be dedicated, and maybe a little crazy, to tackle the stuff that Jethro Tull and Emerson, Lake and Palmer were coming up with in the early to mid-seventies – what has come to be known as the golden age of “progressive rock.” It still amazes me that music this complex and adventurous found such a large audience. I mean, Tull’s “A Passion Play”, a 45-minute-long song cycle roundly derided by the hipster music critics of the day, went to No. 1 on the Billboard album charts in 1973!
First up were Warchild and well, they had me at “hello.” Not just because they are named after one of my favorite Tull albums, not just because they concentrate on the first decade of the band’s output, but oh the sartorial choices! Wonderful. Bass player Bobb Freund was dressed in a black and white swirled outfit with shoes and hat to match ala Jeffrey Hammond. Guitarist Erick Milcetic’s suit was garishly loud, the fabric a cross between paisley curtains and a couch, definitely something that Martin Barre would’ve worn back in the day. Keyboardist and accordionist Mike Grin, with his shock of unkempt grey hair looked like a deranged white suited botanist as he conducted the crowd, and he had his John Evan look of manic glee down pat. He even donned a train conductor hat for “Locomotive Breath” and a pith helmet for “Bungle in the Jungle.” All very silly, but Monty Python-like humor was always an essential part of the Jethro Tull experience, and how refreshing to see a band having fun on stage. The band was rounded out by Jeremy Cohen on drums, and Renee Spizz on additional keyboards, backing vocals and some really intricate glockenspiel work (and how many times do you say that?)
Of course, a Tull tribute act is going to stand or fall with the ability of its frontman to pull off the difficult task of “playing” Ian Anderson. Flip Britton was the man assigned with the task, and to do so he had to navigate acoustic guitar, mandolin, sax and flute as well as lead vocals. He did a marvelous job. His voice certainly shares a similar tonal quality to the Tull main man, but Britton wisely avoided a cheesy impersonation. He put enough of his own spin and sprit into his performance, aided by costumes ranging from the tramp Aqualung, to the bowler hatted Jodhpur-clad lord of the manor. Sartorial elegance, lyrical eloquence, musical consequence. Well played Warchild, well played.
I have seen Manticore once before, at The Linda back in April. I am still picking my jaw up from the floor. They are, in a word, remarkable. ELP were virtuosos on their respective instruments and it’s no exaggeration to say that Manticore mirror their level of accomplishment. Opening with the driving “Peter Gunn theme” by Henry Mancini, they didn’t let up for a blistering 2-hour set.
Drummer John Cristando was a blur of energy from start to finish, hook him up to a generator and he could have powered the whole village of Hudson Falls. Ron Ponella handled the bass and guitar parts superbly, his strong voice ringing out, sounding uncannily like Greg Lake at times. And Rob Shepard was just a revelation on multitudinous keyboards and synthesizers. His “upside down” solo during “Fanfare for the Common man,” where he walked out from behind his rig and played his keyboard backwards, was mind blowing, throwing in quotes from Bach, Bernstein and Brubeck while he was at it. Shepard also utilized many vintage instruments as used by Keith Emerson back in the seventies. In fact it is the 50th anniversary of one of ELP’s most popular albums, 1973’s “Brain Salad Surgery.” In celebration of this milestone Manticore performed the three-part Karn Evil 9 in its entirety, the first time all three “impressions” (or movements) have been played live since ELP did it on tour in 1974! To the prog nerd this is a very big deal! I spoke to Shepard after the show and he confirmed that the second impression is fiercely difficult to play, but that he had been determined to learn it and was inspired as a couple of his friends and fellow musicians had already done so. Well, it was stunning.
Manticore ended with their standard set closer, the swashbuckling “Pirates.” A cannon shot confetti out into the crowd, who departed happily, in the knowledge that bands like Manticore and Warchild are keeping the prog flag flying. Yes, this Rodney Dangerfield of music genres may still get “no respect” but it’s still going.
The show that never ends?
Sure seems like it.
Warchild set list:
- Nothing is Easy
- A Passion Play (excerpts)
- Thick as a Brick (excerpts)
- Locomotive Breath
- Cross Eyed Mary/ My God
- Hunting Girl
- The Third Hoorah
- Bungle in the Jungle
- Skating Away on the Thin Ice of a New Day
- Fat Man
- Sea Lion
- Too Old to Rock n’ Roll: Too Young to Die
Manticore set list:
- Peter Gunn
- Take a Pebble (excerpt)
- Lucky Man
- Fanfare for the Common Man/Rondo
- Keyboard solo
- Benny the Bouncer
- Karn Evil 9: First Impression
- Drum solo
- Karn Evil 9: Second Impression
- Karn Evil 9: Third Impression