The excellent tribute concert that took place for George Harrison at London's hallowed Royal Albert Hall in 2002 was the exception, not the rule. Multi-artist benefit shows have a habit of undulating like the waves, and passengers had better be prepared for the voyage to be choppy as well as calm, if not insipid as well as inspiring.
Luckily, this "come-all-ye" in memory of the much-loved Ronnie "Plonk" Lane was a thoroughly merited testimonial for an artist who's rarely received his due. Even before he embarked on a belated solo career in the 1970s that explored some challenging new acoustic terrain, Lane had been a key member of two bands that genuinely helped to define their eras in the U.K., the Small Faces (1965-69) and the Faces (1969-73).
Lane died of multiple sclerosis in 1997, and this tribute was mounted by promoter and lifetime fan John Hellier to raise money for his family and in aid of MS research. It's a measure of how long "Plonk" fought the dreadful disability that he was present for a previous, similar occasion at the Albert Hall in the early stages of his illness in 1983.
That evening boasted the contribution of such rock giants as Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Steve Winwood. If its 2004 successor was lighter on superstar names, it was the prospect of seeing Pete Townshend, Ronnie Wood and Paul Weller in an unusual setting that attracted many to take part in the celebration. Clapton and Sir Paul McCartney sent notes of good wishes apologizing for their absence.
The opening "half" of the evening featured well-intentioned but less than inspiring tribute bands Small World and 17 Black in what largely came across as a reprise of a 2001 multi-artist memorial to Lane's colleague, co-writer and Small Faces frontman Steve Marriott. Ocean Colour Scene raised the standard considerably with its short set, which included a well-chosen cover of Lane's later entry, "Done This One Before."
His band from that era, Slim Chance, reunited after the interval for its first performance in 25 years, featuring a line-up that included former Wings guitarist Henry McCulloch and a version of the 1974 U.K. hit "How Come?" Two punk stalwarts, Glen Matlock (Sex Pistols) and Mick Jones (the Clash, Big Audio Dynamite), joined Slim Chance before a first, rousing appearance by Townshend for "Stone." Then it was the turn of Weller and Wood, fronting a coherent version of Lane's enduring "The Poacher."
Townshend's one-time Who colleague Kenney Jones, the backbeat of the Small Faces' adventures in mod-pop and onwards into increasingly experimental rock, was then installed on drums, as a succession of vocalists turned the pages of Lane's songbook, including Robert Hart, Sam Brown and 1960s survivors Steve Ellis and Chris Farlowe.
Townshend's "Heart to Hang Onto," from his 1977 collaboration with Lane, "Rough Mix," was moving both for his affectionate introduction and its signal that Townshend's artistic mercury is clearly rising again. In a second period that ballooned way out of proportion at some 150 minutes, Wood relived his guitar runs on the Faces' "Ooh La La" and "Stay With Me."
The spirit was uniformly generous, even if those who arrived wanting to learn more about Lane's life, times and loveable nature will have left largely unilluminated.