The Arena, Swansea
Thursday, 11th May 2023
My regular meat-and-potatoes gigs are generally more angular than this, but when your better-half only owns four CDs, and one of them is by Mike + The Mechanics, and it’s her birthday, and they’re playing down the road from your house, then it’s a no brainer to take her to experience 25% of her record collection in one evening!
Fresh from Genesis’ final spin ’round the globe, Mike Rutherford is playing near and far with his reinvigorated Mechanics, after a four year break. Amazingly, the Mechanics celebrate their 40th Anniversary in a couple of years, and members have come and gone throughout that period, but with stalwarts of the last decade in singers Andrew Roachford and Tim Howar, keyboardist Luke Juby and guitarist/bassist Anthony Drennan, the new face is a very exciting addition. Nic Collins played up a storm on the recent Genesis shows and he’s a definite secret weapon tonight, clattering about with youthful energy and adding a new dimension to the quality songs that Rutherford and the band have recorded over the years.
Arriving to warm applause, they settle in quickly with an uptempo Get Up, the opener from 1991’s Word of Mouth, Howar and Roachford duetting the lead on this funky number. With his background in musical theatre, Tim Howar knows how to work a crowd and whips them up with his boundless energy all evening, even shaming this serial non-joiner-inner into singing a few ‘na na nas’ before the end – the perils of sitting near the front! A Beggar on a Beach of Gold and Another Cup of Coffee are as familiar and warm as a lovely pair of slippers, Howar taking lead on the former as Roachford sits at the second keyboard stage right, alongside Juby. From here he adds a soulful vocal to Another Cup of Coffee, and is immediately the band’s other secret weapon. Man, he can sing. What a voice and what a presence, exuding quality at every turn. With the singers alternating lead and harmonising with each other throughout the show, there is plenty of variety and their different styles complement each other beautifully.
By now you can just sit back and enjoy a quality band in full flow. The sound is superb and the seats comfy – I’ve waited decades for Swansea to get a venue like this, and the Arena delivers in spades. Having started the show on bass, Rutherford moves to guitar, and then acoustic, with guitarist Anthony Drennan taking up four-string duties, and showing that he excels at both. By Are You Ready, the crowd most definitely are. Roachford’s fantastic delivery makes Try to Save Me a highpoint, likewise Let Me Fly. Between them, Jesus He Knows Me brings the first of a smattering of Genesis numbers, a song tailor-made for Howar’s theatrical leanings, and it’s a punchy version with Nic Collins slipping easily into his Dad’s shoes.
The Best is Yet to Come, another from 2017’s Let Me Fly album, is an upbeat rocker, before the first set closes with the slightly more prog Silent Running (On Dangerous Ground) from the self-titled debut, originally sung by Paul Carrack. I’ve always loved this song and Roachford sells it brilliantly, adding a new dimension. There’s space for some sedate soloing from Rutherford and they take their break safe in the knowledge that the job has been well done.
It’s obvious from the movement on the stage that an acoustic set is going to be next on the agenda, and so it is as the band return to huddle together front and centre, Rutherford and Drennan on acoustic guitars, with Collins concentrating firmly on his shaker and the tiny electronic drum box in front of him. There’s a nice selection of Wonder, Don’t Know What Came Over Me, Nobody’s Perfect and Everybody Gets a Second Chance, with the addition of Genesis’ Invisible Touch, always a lightweight bit of fluff, but in stripped back form it’s so insignificant that it could blow away in a light breeze. However the acoustic set ends with the more enjoyable Follow You Follow Me, beautifully duetted, with Howar encouraging a sing along and Juby landing the Banks keyboard lines well.
Back to full band and the final Genesis number of the night is I Can’t Dance, giving Howar and Rutherford the opportunity to redeploy the infamous footwork. The set’s covers have all been obvious choices at the lighter end of the repertoire of Rutherford’s former band, playing to the audience and not looking to stretch them (or him) too far. You can’t fault him for that and it fits the mood, but this certainly isn’t a show for hardcore Genesis-ites.
The high-point of the set for me is undoubtedly when Andrew Roachford takes centre stage for an extended and rollicking version of his hit (from 1988!!) Cuddly Toy. It’s fun, funky and full of energy, and he clearly still enjoys singing it after all these years. The crowd go nuts. The astute setlist keeps Roachford at the front for the show’s emotional high watermark, The Living Years. It’s a remarkable song in that, despite its almost mawkish aura, it remains deeply moving – even a stone-hearted cynic like me being moved to remember people now gone and things that should have been done differently, Roachford exposing the heart of the song and squeezing it until it weeps.
A nice change of feel again into the pumping All I Need Is a Miracle, Howar at the front again with Nic thundering around and adding crisp fills to fine effect, and another easy solo from Rutherford. Over My Shoulder finishes the main set with Luke Juby strapping on the bass and hitting the mic for the whistling part, while Rutherford and Drennan again man the acoustics. The inevitable encore is a muscular Word of Mouth with Howar as ringmaster to conjure much audience participation, with added solo segments from each of the band. Juby’s solo slow-builds, Drennan adds a lovely slide-based section, Collins thrashes his kit to atoms and Roachford teases us with the first line of Stevie Wonder’s Superstition, but then only plays the keyboard part. Very nice, but something of a shame and a missed opportunity. Finally, Rutherford steps up for a take on Hendrix’s Purple Haze, one can only assume with tongue firmly planted in cheek, but he gets away with it and it’s his self-deprecating style that makes the whole thing work. He’s the star but you don’t actually go along to see him perform, as such. He’s an important part of the band but it doesn’t centre on him in the same way as Steve Hackett’s shows do, for example. Rutherford is at the heart of it all, ‘The Chief Mechanic’, still every inch the affable country squire he always has been, doing the introductions and enjoying being part of setup, but never wholly comfortable with the limelight, putting up with it when he has to and being beautifully gracious. The songs are what it’s about and what makes him tick.
As a quality band purveying quality songs, Mike + The Mechanics put on a great show and the full house responded accordingly with much singing, clapping and dancing. If anyone went home disappointed, I’d be astonished.
A Beggar on a Beach of Gold
Another Cup of Coffee
Are You Ready
Try to Save Me
Jesus He Knows Me (Genesis cover)
Let Me Fly
The Best Is Yet to Come
Invisible Touch (Genesis cover) (Acoustic)
Don’t Know What Came Over Me (Acoustic)
Nobody’s Perfect (Acoustic)
Everybody Gets a Second Chance (Acoustic)
Follow You Follow Me (Genesis cover) (Acoustic)
I Can’t Dance (Genesis cover)
Cuddly Toy (Roachford cover)
The Living Years
All I Need Is a Miracle
Over My Shoulder
Word of Mouth (Including Band Solos)
Mike Rutherford – Bass, Guitars, Backing Vocals
Andrew Roachford – Lead & Backing Vocals, Keyboards
Tim Howar – Lead & Backing Vocals
Anthony Drennan – Guitars, Bass
Luke Juby – Keyboards, Backing Vocals, Bass, Whistling
Nic Collins – Drums