Into the Pit: 059: VAST – Live at The Ruby Lounge Manchester – 31-March 2008

…with a lot of attention paid to catching up with a number of old friends there, I paid little or no attention to the support acts at all (which is reasonably rare for me). So I’ll skip them and move onto the main event.

Live @ The Ruby Lounge, Manchester
31 March 2008

It’s been some years since VAST last made it to the UK – over six, in fact. I saw them on their last visit to Manchester in late 2001, and since then the band have released two full albums (Nude and April), and numerous other releases (Turquoise and Crimson, A Complete Demonstration and the new Generica three “album” set – all of which are demos, in the main, of various qualities), so there was a lot to catch up on.

The crowd was pretty big – which was an encouraging sign for a band that have effectively retreated into self-releasing albums after getting their fingers burnt by larger record labels at least twice – and seemed in the main to consist of very devoted fans, who knew almost all of the words. And with all that in mind – and with a recent album to promote, perhaps – it was most surprising to find all of the first eight songs or so, and a large proportion of the set overall, was drawn from the earlier material. Not that we were complaining much – this was clearly the more popular material!

VAST Setlist: Temptation
Thrown Away
Pretty When You Cry
My TV & You
Wonderful Life
You Should Have Known I Would Leave
Dedicate (A Place For Me)
Desert Garden
I’m Dying
Tattoo of Your Name
You’re Too Young
You’re The Same

Be With Me
I’m Too Good
The Last One Alive

What was notable is how the band have changed, or perhaps evolved. On CD, gone are the ultra-complex structures of the first album, replaced with a gentler, more acoustic-based sound, and live this is reflected in how the songs are played. Earlier tracks – like set opener Temptation and in particular early single Pretty When You Cry – sounded rather strange shorn of the orchestral and vocal samples that underpinned them originally, although incredibly the gaps were filled at points by members of the crowd! Later material – clearly composed with live performance in mind, as opposed to a studio project – fairs much better live, with Free sounding as ever like a lost stadium anthem, and Turquoise wasn’t looking any lower in scope either.

Even the newer material – including a few Generica tracks that I couldn’t identify, and a handful of tracks from April sounded good in the live environment, especially surprising to me as I really didn’t take well to April at all. Perhaps I need to re-evaluate…

Highlights – of which there were many, but I’ll just pick out a couple – were an extraordinary I’m Dying, easily the most effective and powerful of the tracks played from the debut album, and in the encore the wistful Be With Me packed a surprising punch, while The Last One Alive was astoundingly good too (and resulted in a mass sing-along). My only, slightly selfish complaint? The glaring omission of Here, still their best song. But then, when twenty songs are aired in a long set, it is perhaps a little churlish to complain.

Greeted like conquering heroes as they were, Jon Crosby and his band clearly enjoyed the occasion, and seemed to be genuinely happy at the turnout (it is understood that other venues on the tour have enjoyed similarly good turnouts), and he did mention that he has had problems in the past with promoters believing that they could draw good crowds. Hopefully the success of this tour will mean more regular visits to the UK.

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