A founding member of Yes, guitarist Peter Banks played on that bands first two albums before forming Flash with Ray Bennett on bass, Michael Hough on drums, and Colin Carter on vocals. Tony Kaye, another Yes founding member played keyboards on the first Flash album before moving on to co-found Badger. In Public documents a January 21, 1973 Kansas City performance featuring the quartet of Banks, Bennett, Hough and Carter. These archival recordings were in the works when Banks sadly passed away in March of this year, so it stands as a tribute to the guitarist.
In the CD notes, Banks bemoans the critics who accused Flash of sounding like Yes. Well, sure, Banks was a founder of that band. But I think the crucial difference is that rather than pigeonholing themselves with the type of “Prog” rock that characterized the post-Banks Yes albums, Flash also fit in easily with early 70s hard rock, though played by exceptional musicians who balanced interesting, imaginative, ever-shifting thematic twists and turns with a free-wheeling jam ethic (ok, so, “progressive hard rock”).
Most of the songs, at their core, are high energy rockers, skipping to and fro from the main themes to jazzy segments, whimsical bits, and Prog infused Yes-like constructions. The Yes comparisons are valid, though Flash in concert are rawer, edgier… a hard rock band with the ability to take their music to the next level of sophistication, without fully surrendering to the compositional restrictions that were the hallmark of so much 70s progressive rock. We’ve even got an extended drum solo, which Prog bands typically did not indulge in (ELP notwithstanding). Banks’ guitar chops are all over this set, without it feeling like a non-stop shred-fest. The performance showcases a creative musician who could turn-on-a-dime shift from standard hard rock solos, to dreamy ambience, jazz and swinging potency that borders on boogie-woogie.
The real monster of the set, and the one that will most appeal to Aural Innovations readers, is the 25 minute Dreams Of Heaven. Here we have Banks stepping fully into the spotlight. Banks shifts effortlessly through multiple styles, from frenetically wild to mantra inducing meditations. After a particularly peaceful solo, a volcanic noise-drone rumbles, and Banks tears off on a densely aggressive blend of feedback-laden Hendrix and Hawkwind Space Ritual, and then just as abruptly the band launch into the main theme of the song, while continuing to keep things loose and explore. As the music approaches the finale, it reaches mercury bursting levels of acid-drenched frenzy, and if any early 70s Prog rock could be considered “lysergic”, these brief moments are it. Early in the track I even hear bits of what sounds like could be The Byrds’ So You Want To Be A Rock and Roll Star, which is possible given that The Byrds shared the bill with Flash on this night! Maybe a nod to them?
Another comment by Banks in the CD notes, which he calls his war-cry is, “We have no keyboard player; I can do it all on my guitar, though I sometimes secretly wished for “the mighty swirling organ” of Tony Kaye, who played on our first album.” I dunno… I’d not heard much Flash prior to this live set, mostly being acquainted with Banks through the first two Yes albums and his Two Sides Of Peter Banks solo album. But judging by this live set, I’d say there’s a hell of a lot of exciting and varied music being made with just guitar, bass and drums.
For more information and to purchase In Public, visit http://www.peterbanks.net
The CD comes in a nice tri-fold cover and includes a 16 page booklet with memories of Peter Banks from fellow musicians and Flash crew.
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz