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
“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
|Walter Trout - the blues really did come calling|
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.