Status Quo’s cheery ubiquity has served to mask the puzzling nature of their career. Last year, for example, saw the classic line-up, billed for whatever reason as the Frantic Four, complete their second reunion tour, and also the release of Bula Quo, a comedy feature film of dubious quality and On The Buses jokes that joined a long list of gimmicks that have kept the other, more end-of-the-pier version of the band in work. It’s almost as if the serious side of their music has had to be ring-fenced off from their role as enduring entertainers.
They also know the value of a good farewell. Francis Rossi and Rick Parfitt played their first ever ‘final show’ with Quo at Milton Keynes in 1984, so perhaps The Frantic Four’s Final Fling is just the thirtieth anniversary of that. More than anyone they can tell you that nothing in rock is irreversible. If the Frantic Four want to play together again, then this ‘final show of the final tour – ever’ will be just another signpost along the way.
Realistically, time is against them, and perhaps Quo are trying to reverse something before it’s too late: the slow withering of their reputation as one of this country’s defining hard rock bands. It would be impossible to listen to this excellent live recording or watch its accompanying DVD without sensing the chasm that exists between the two line-ups. The Frantic Four are raw and relentless, fuelled by a genuine chemistry available only to the constituent parts and playing a set that panders not to commerce or expectation but to the integrity of the music that they once made together.
Even those old warhorses Whatever You Want and Rockin’ All Over The World are absent. The only concessions to age come in the voices of Alan Lancaster and Rick Parfitt – Francis Rossi’s remains more robust, perhaps because he has sung for so long in the other band. It’s forgivable, even endearing, especially when they hit their straps so hard.
The opening four-shot of Junior’s Wailing, Backwater, Just Take Me and the magnificent Is There A Better Way are almost frenzied, and the set builds to a brutal conclusion full of pathos as they roll through Forty-Five Hundred Times, Roadhouse Blues and Caroline. It’s easy to forget what a force Rick Parfitt’s rhythm guitar playing can be. When he pounds at those heavy-gauge strings and then Rossi and Lancaster drop in alongside him, the Frantic Four offer some genuinely thrilling moments.
On reflection perhaps they’re right to change the name: followers of the more family-friendly, cabaret side who stumbled across this in the racks would be in for a rude and greasy awakening.