Seldom has a band name been more appropriate — sadly, thrillingly, completely appropriate. Flash, after all, was an often-stunning burst of musical prowess. And, it was of course, gone in all but an instant.
In a short two-year timeframe, Flash released three albums, scored a hit song in America, and then simply vanished. Banks and the classic lineup of Colin Carter, Michael Hough and Ray Bennett went their separate ways, even as Banks released his well received solo debut Two Sides of Peter Banks. It would be some four decades on before Banks — not to mention Carter and Bennett, who recently jumpstarted their own version of Flash — returned to this shooting-star moment.
Poring over a volcanically imaginative, previously unreleased live recording from January of 1973 at the Cowtown Ballroom in Kansas City, he found Flash at the peak of their ever-so-brief, piercingly bright powers. “We came on loud and strong,” Banks remembers in the liner notes to In Public (due on October 29, 2013 from AdequatEsounds, and available via PeterBanks.net), “with a musical athleticism.” Later, clearly enthralled by the moment, he describes Flash’s songs as “lengthy Olympian events,” and as “music that could inspire and agitate in equal measure.” Banks had, after an unhappy end with Yes, found a place where his core musical sensibilities could flourish. There were times, of course, when Flash could be accused (despite Banks’ previous denials) of referencing his former band. That was to be expected, considering his foundational role in that sound. By the time Banks began this project, he had come to terms with such things — and had a different kind of retort when asked about it: “I say: Fuck you!”
That tart comment, as funny as it was alive with passion, came in February 2013. By March, shockingly, Banks was dead — making In Public, lovingly uncovered with an assist from longtime manager George Mizer, a kind of last will and ass-kicking prog-rock testament. Make no mistake, despite a book filled with comments by the likes of Steve Hackett, Pete Townshend, various Flash crew members, and both Tony Kaye and Steve Howe from Yes, this is no nostalgic-filled reminiscence. Flash plays with an attitude bordering on the vengeful, happily almost running off the rails at times — and completely belying the ugly end looming not to far down the road at a Hilton in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
“Small Beginnings,” the Banks/Colin Carter co-written opener, is of course anything but small; it’s a floorboard-rearranging stunner, all muscle mass. (“Our songs were long,” Banks offers with a twinkle, “and our trousers were tight.”) “Black and White,” meanwhile, combines a thunderous bass line from principal writer Bennett with a series of brilliant asides (stuttering, riffy, monstrous, filigreed) courtesy of drummer Hough and co-composer Banks. After Hough’s rambunctious turn on “Stop that Banging,” Bennett’s “There No More” is happily all over the place — wheeling about with a virtuoso bravado. Carter and Co. then find a tough groove for “Children of the Universe,” then quickly regroups for a still-stunning nearly 25-minute take on “Dreams of Heaven” — which levitates past feedback-leavened noise through a ruminative quietude and on toward a mind-twistingly complex algorithm — to close things out.
At times, their highwire act almost goes plummeting to the ground, but Flash walks this fine line with fearless aplomb. And that was, Banks clearly understood at the end, part of the magic, the mystery and the tragedy of Flash — which, like its woefully underappreciated guitarist — was gone far too soon.