Thursday, November 26, 2015

Walter Trout - O2 ABC, Glasgow, 18 November 2015

How to begin?
In a recent interview Walter Trout spoke about starting to write songs again after his liver transplant, and finding that his first efforts lacked any depth.  “This isn’t it,” he thought, and had to confront the darkness of his experience head-on.  And I wonder if, going back on the road, he’s been faced with a similar kind of challenge, because his set seems to fall into three acts.
I have to admit, I’m not a long-standing Walter Trout aficionado.  He’s someone I’ve only really encountered in the last year or so, and the dramatic story of his illness is more familiar to me than his substantial back catalogue.  But as he and his band kick off the show with some golden oldies, starting with the wailing lead guitar intro to the Peter Gunn-ish ‘Help Me’, it all feels a bit unreal, like he’s revisiting how it used to be, but somehow it’s a little tentative.  Although
Walter Trout - the blues really did come calling
“tentative” may seems a rather daft description, given the way that he and his band rock on the very appropriate choice of Luther Allison’s ‘I’m Back’; given the sense of fun as Walter takes off into another solo, apparently ready to give Ian Anderson a run for his money in the standing-on-one-leg performance stakes; given the way he merrily calls on keyboard pal Sammy Avila to produce another solo.
But still, there’s a shift of gear when they get to the second act – the material from new album Battle Scars, which tells the tale of his trauma.  “These songs are dark, graphic, and depressing,” he says.  “But hey!  Let’s have some fun!”  He’s engaging, and self-deprecating, but bordering on apologetic, perhaps fearing that he’s being self-indulgent.  But if so he’s wrong.  Because the conviction he and the band bring to the new stuff takes things to another level.
‘Almost Gone’ builds from its ringing guitar line to develop a great, Skynyrd-ish vibe.  Walter’s son John comes on to make his first contribution with rhythm guitar on ‘Tomorrow Seems So Far Away’.  And then they really achieve lift-off with ‘Playin’ Hideaway, its ZZ Top-like groove driven by great, stomping drums from Michael Leasure.  Suddenly they seem free of any restraint.  Re-tuning, Trout mutters to himself “That sounds sufficiently psychedelic,” before delivering the brooding ‘Haunted By The Night’.  ‘Fly Away’, his tale of a near death experience, finds the band rocking again, building the momentum with an all out rhythm attack, before the melancholy ‘Omaha’ offers some respite.
All of this stuff is delivered with total conviction, and having got it out of his system Walter seems to relax into a freewheeling third act.  There’s a fun, teasing guitar duel with son John, which in the way of these things goes on a couple of minutes too long. The instrumental ‘Marie’s Mood’ weaves around a nice guitar melody.  Walter’s guitar/vocal harmonies bring variety to ‘Serve Me Right To Suffer’, which then builds to a mountainous crescendo to close the main set.
The encores include a decidedly wonky version of ‘Loch Lomond’, but also the oldie ‘Going Down’, featuring yet another ferocious rhythm assault from Leasure and bassist Johnny Gasparek over which Trout improvises on the riff as much as he solos.  It’s a momentous closer, on which Avila also adds his best solo of the night, and guest vocalist Andrew Elt appears to do some Glenn Hughes meets Robert Plant style wailing.
SDP - sharp but short
How to begin again?  Maybe Walter Trout should ditch Act One, and focus his live act on his new material right from the start – go with the stuff that really means something to him, and embodies his fresh start.

Stephen Dale Petit fills the support slot, not the easiest assignment as the big barn of a room is still filling up.  For this outing he’s brought a three-piece outfit of himself, and youngsters Jack Greenwood on drums and Sophie Lord on bass, so there’s no Laurent Moufflier on harp to provide a different point of attack.  SDP shows off his great, ringing rhythm guitar sound on the opening ‘3 Gunslingers’, and in the middle of his solo generates some good interaction with Greenwood’s drums.  Meanwhile ‘California’ veers more towards rock than straight ahead blues, with Petit conjuring up a startling wah-wah sound, and Greenwood following his leader brilliantly.  But sadly it’s all too short, without every really setting light to proceedings.  I look forward to seeing Petit another time, when he might capture the ferocity of his live album At High Voltage.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

The Waterboys - Barrowland, Glasgow, 11 November 2015.

No messing.  Just some heads-down no-nonsense post-punk-beat-poet-folk-blues-rock.  Simple, really.
Simple because, when you get down to it, The Waterboys kick ass.  They get the ball rolling with ‘Destinies Entwined’, from their latest album Modern Blues, featuring muscular guitar and surging organ even before Steve Wickham makes a grand entrance and adds his electric fiddle to the mix.  The extra dimension brought by that fiddle is apparent on the following ‘Still A Freak’, with Wickham showing great attack as he conjures up a sound akin to tough slide guitar.
Mike Scott takes to the piano for a journey back in time to ‘A Girl Called Johnny’, which has Wickham pirouetting across the stage, before they offer up two stormy codas, demonstrating the power and gutsiness that’s the hallmark of their sound throughout, propelled along by the rhythm section of Ralph Salmins on drums and David Hood on bass.  It’s there again as they blast through ‘We Will Not Be Lovers’, which features a fiddle v guitar duel between Wickham and lead guitarist Zach Ernst.
Mike Scott and friends - the nearest thing to hip
‘Nearest Thing To Hip’ cools things down a bit, with some jazzy, Van the Man undertones.  Mike Scott takes time to insert a chatty, humorous tribute to the cheap shops and market stalls of Glasgow’s ‘Barras’ district, recalling his spotty youth travelling up from Ayrshire to buy the latest trendy gear with his limited funds.
But it’s on ‘Rosalind’ that the roof really comes off, as they unleash their new secret weapon.  Scott and Wickham may be one of those great, idiosyncratic front line pairings, but now they’re augmented by Paul Brown, the co-producer of Modern Blues – aka ‘Brother Paul’ of Memphis, who is a flailing, manic force of nature on keyboards, and evidently having a whale of a time.  Coming across like a demented rock’n’roll hybrid of Jerry Lee Lewis, and Christopher Lloyd playing Doc in Back To The Future, he grabs the spotlight with a frenzied solo that feels like he’s ready to climb inside his organ and rip out its innards.  It’s symptomatic of his rabble-rousing contribution - and he even chucks in some howling backing vocals just for good measure.
Later they cement their rock’n’roll leanings with a brisk take on ‘Roll Over Beethoven’, before Scott gives full rein to his storytelling abilities on ‘The Return Of Jimi Hendrix’, on which Ernst goes wild with some wailing, distorted guitar.  Scott and Wickham go into duo mode for a trip down memory lange with ‘Don’t Bang That Drum’, before bringing the band back for the inevitable ‘Whole Of The Moon’.  It’s a solid gold classic of course, on which the whole crowd contributes backing vocals, but to close the set they opt for ‘Long Strange Golden Road’.  The ten-minute epic from Modern Blues brings us home with a thumping evocation of Scott’s eager way with beat imagery, with the “wild holy band playing jazz that was outrageous” outstripped by the band’s own rock groove and the inspiring hook of the chorus.

They encore with ‘Fisherman’s Blues’, the rattling tune that’s still the prime example of Mike Scott’s folk immersion, with Wickham’s delightful fiddle line complementing Scott’s sea-swept, wind-blown lyrics.  And if that’s going back to the source, they end the night with a left turn into ‘Purple Rain’, a surprise choice of cover that they pull off in the most relaxed fashion.  We heard the big music tonight, and it sounded pretty damn good

Monday, November 9, 2015

Vintage Trouble - Barrowland, Glasgow, 8 November 2015

People get ready, because here comes the next big thing.
The faded ballroom charms of the Barrowlands seem like just the right setting for Vintage Trouble, and their 21st century take on a Sixties soul revue injected with bluesy guitar and rock’n’roll rhythms.  Think Motown melodies.  Think Sam and Dave freneticism.  Think James Brown showmanship.  Think, if you will, of National Lampoon’s Animal House, and the kids going nuts to Otis Day and the Knights (featuring Robert Cray, by the way) performing ‘Shout’.
Vintage Trouble - Sharp Dressed Men
These guys know their green onions, as evidenced by their entry tape of Big Mama Thornton doing ‘Hound Dog’ as a prelude to the cool opener of ‘Soul Serenity’.  Then serenity be damned, as they explode into the frantic ‘Blues Hand Me Down’.  Sporran-adorned lead singer Ty Taylor is spinning and bouncing through dance moves, gangling bass player Rick Barrio Dill is getting down in spidery fashion, and Nalle Colt is cranking out a belter of a guitar riff to complement Rich Danielson’s pounding drums.
They keep their foot on the gas through the offbeat dance-ability of ‘Nancy Lee’, with Taylor breaking out his selection of soulful squeals, and on into the ringing chords and thumping backbeat of ‘Angel City, California’, which sounds for all the world like the Stones opting to rock out by speeding up and de-countrifying ‘Sweet Virginia’.
They offer the odd breather mid-set, such as on ‘Another Man’s Words’, which is just one example of their flair for a great hook, and in this case also for great accompanying  guitar licks filling in around it.
Taylor is always working the crowd though, and when he poses the question “Have you heard of a juke joint?” it’s the cue for things to kick off big time.  As he pictures a scene in the Deep South, where you drip sweat when you walk outside, they ease themselves into ‘Before The Teardrops’, and women start screaming as he grinds his hips. 
Then, proclaiming that it’s time for a dance party, Taylor is suddenly off the stage, forging an aisle through the middle of the crowd to dance with any female who makes herself available on his way back to the stage.

As if that’s not enough, Nalle Colt propels ‘Run Like The River’ into rocking action with
Ty Taylor - To infinity and beyond!
Page-esque slide.  Singing along is just the norm by now, so Taylor enlivens things still further by conducting the audience in the Wave, before going AWOL among them again to turn up at the back of the house, and then crowd-surfing his way back to the stage.  And just in case anyone doubted his total control, the raucous set closer ‘Strike Your Light’ has him in the body of the kirk yet again, in true Otis Day mode ordering everyone to crouch down as the band lower the volume before their final assault.
After that, first encore ‘Nobody Told Me’ is a cooling off period, a Marvin Gaye-style slice of soul that again suggests VT’s mastery of the genre is, as the lyrics put it, “a message and a calling”.  It also allows all concerned to gather their strength for the final assault of ‘Pelvis Pusher’, which comes over like a revved up, sexed up sequel to Arthur Conley’s ‘Sweet Soul Music’.  Taylor, needless to say, acts out the title big time, provoking yet more female whooping from among the dancing crowd.
If Vintage Trouble are coming to a town near you, get your dancing shoes on, get down there, and prepare to surrender.  Resistance is useless.

Support band Slydigs are a cocky looking bunch, which can’t be an easy state of mind to maintain when you come from Warrington and you’re supporting a gang from LA who are tearing it up every night.  But they give a decent account of themselves as they collide the Stones with Britrock.  Drummer Pete Fleming in particular, powers things along in the manner of Taylor Hawkins, which is to say perhaps a bit manic and overfond of a crashing cymbal, but still distinctive.  They need to work on stronger material, but ‘Light The Fuse’ is striking enough to set a standard to aim for.

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Mike Zito & The Wheel - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 1 November 2015

It’s Sunday, it’s 9pm, and it’s time to shake, rattle and roll.  A blast of slide guitar from Mike Zito heralds the title track of his band’s new album, Keep Coming Back.  It’s an infectious, house-is-rockin’ set opener, driven along by a shuffling rhythm from drummer Rob Lee underpinning Zito’s guitar, and lays down a marker for what follows.  The familiar ‘Don’t Break A Leg’ is next up, a cheeky portrayal of a dumb-ass guy with a tin ear when it comes to communicating with the opposite sex.  By the time The Wheel are done, it's also something akin to a jazz-funk-blues meltdown.  And this, bear in mind, is just the second song.
Mike Zito & The Wheel - three or more chords and nothing but the truth
The new album may not be out for another few days, but several tracks from it get an airing.  'Chin Up' brings some driving boogie into the mix, with its exhortations to optimism in the face of adversity, while 'Nothing But The Truth' is Stonesy from its first snare shot, with a riff that Keef would surely delight in.  And just to up the rock'n'rollin' ante, there's also a cover of Bob Seger's 'Get Out Of Denver' - a son of 'Johnny B. Goode' if ever there was one, on which Zito is even moved to offer a brief duck walk.
There are plenty of favourites from the back catalogue too, some of them demonstrating he value of Jimmy Carpenter's sax playing, as with the neat guitar and sax duet on 'Gone To Texas', and Carpenter's squalling solo on the laid back 'Subtraction Blues', which develops into a Hendrixy jam.  Carpenter also gets to step out front with lead vocals on his own catchy and light-hearted paean to the female form, 'Walk Away', on which Zito grins his way through some Shadows-style moves with bassist Scot Sutherland.  The latter, as Zito acknowledges, is the better dancer - as well as being just about the coolest looking dude this side of Miami Steve Van Zandt.
More reflective moments are offered by some cornerstones of their repertoire.  There's the dark tale of Southern history that is 'Pearl River', for example, on which Zito delivers a piercing solo.  And there's 'Judgement Day', on which he reverts to slide with a tone that conjures up echoes of Ritchie Blackmore, of all people.
Throughout all of this the engine room of Lee on drums and Sutherland on bass are the dog's bollocks.  These guys bring both solidity and inventiveness to the party, not just on the swinging, funky stuff, but also on the slow blues of '39 Days', on which Zito complements the cousin-of-'Mistreated' riff with an impassioned solo.
The night ends with another cover from the new album, of John Fogerty's 'Bootleg', into which they insert a blast or two of 'Born In The Bayou' for good measure.  It's an apt marker for where Mike Zito & The Wheel are right now, right in the cross hairs of vibrant blues and country-inflected rock'n'roll. Catch 'em if you can.
Supporting duo Mud In Your Ear take us on a semi-acoustic historical journey through blues terrain of the 30s to 50s.  Richard O'Donnell is the kind of young guy who just makes me sick, showing off his ability with not just slide guitar, but also boogie woogie piano and a satisfying blues holler. He and his older compadre Allan Jones also sport a selection of guitars that even makes Mike Zito envious.  Highlights include Elmore James' 'Sunnyland Train', with gritty slide from O'Donnell on a Silvertone, while Jones delivers sprightly acoustic lead on a Memphis Minnie country blues, and suitably careworn vocals on Frank Stokes' 'Downtown Blues'.  All in all an intriguing tour of some lesser known tunes.