UK, the late-’70s short-lived prog rock band, led by Eddie Jobson, played a great show at the Egg’s Swyer Theater Thursday night.
With John Wetton on vocals — another art-rock star from King Crimson and the like — the four man band played their dynamic music with precision and power, their genre holding its age well.
Jobson, the draw and the leader, lingered in the back for a good part of the show, controlling things subtly from his synthesizer. He played his violin briefly on the second song — “By the Light of Day” — and finally came out to play for real an hour later. Wearing all black, round, darkened sunglasses, he wailed on his violin, sacrificing melody for speed and volume. This was good old blaring fusion at its best.
Every tune had several movements to it, always an ethereal spacey middle part, and every tune earned a full standing ovation. The crowd was tiny, probably the effect of a $75 ticket price, but they carried the enthusiasm of an audience twice its size.
They delivered a perfectly orchestrated jam for “By the Light of Day,” the second song of the show. Drummer Virgil Donati, on his first tour with UK, was fantastic here and everywhere. The fusion drummer gave us amazing speed and complex beats. He was a show by himself, driving the complex tunes that never seem to move in 4/4 time like regular rock tunes, instead changing time every few bars: Music to bob the head to, but dangerous for dancing.
Jobson didn’t say much, but he told us before playing “Nevermore” that “the original UK never played it because it was too difficult. We’ve had more time to practice so we’ll give it a shot.” It felt like an aggressive Pat Matheny tune. The band was awesomely tight here as well — clearly hours of practice — but without the nostalgia attached to the tune like their originals. Only about two-thirds of the empty room gave them a standing ovation.
“Thirty Years” was their musically heaviest tune, and while the small theater isn’t conducive to arena-like prog-rock tunes reaching for epic proportions, it worked fine and seemed perfectly appropriate.
After 70 minutes, the group left Jobson alone on stage to play an electric violin solo. The solo didn’t do much, though the crowd gave him plenty of affection. It sounded more like a heavy metal guitar solo. He followed with a piano solo that showcased his musical ear, more than his skill on the keyboard. Then came his moody sketches with the synthesizer. He has numerous sound tracks to his name, and his talent for creating tone and emotion were on display here.
“It’s only been 30 years since we played together,” Jobson said about Wetton. “Sorry to keep you waiting so long. It’s a great excuse to play some King Crimson,” which they did for an encore.
These guys have associations with Frank Zappa, Bryan Ferry, Jethro Tull, Roxy Music and others. There’s not a lot of room on the radio for this kind of stuff, and there’s not a lot of bands touring on this music. But Thursday night, UK didn’t sound a day older than their heyday. Enjoy their songs or not, they are phenomenal musicians — a requirement of prog-rock — and that’s entertainment enough for their live show. Thursday night was a good night of music. Perhaps a lower ticket price would have boosted attendance.