Sunday, December 4, 2016

Planet Rock Roadstars - Mash House, Edinburgh, 2 December 2016

‘Roadstars’, eh?  If the meagre crowd in attendance tonight has been typical of the turnout as these guys have schlepped around the country over the last couple of weeks, then I reckon ‘Duespayers’ would have been a better monicker for this tour.
Fair play to Federal Charm though, they put it all out there regardless.  They come on stage to a moody entry tape of movie dialogue, and open up with ‘Master Plan’, which sports a
Federal Charm - stage stomping
spiky riff and interesting bridge.  A bluesier number shows off some subtle slide from singer and guitarist Nick Bowden, but the following ‘Hercules’ is so-so stuff, demonstrating that their main challenge is producing material of consistent quality.  ‘Guess What’ is much better though, opening with a stuttering, trebly riff reminiscent of Houses Of The Holy vintage Zep, before it follows its own path, and it has to be said they give it the gun, with guitarist Paul Bowe indulging in some serious stage stomping.
A couple of power ballads illustrate their variability: ‘These Four Walls’ is okay, but that’s it; ‘God, Forsaken’, on the other hand, has a good structure, tasteful vocals, and atmospheric lyrics.  ‘Give Me Something’ is frantic, with a dash of harp and some banjo-like guitar from Bowe, and they finish strongly with ‘Silhouette’, which offers a big riff and a tasteful Bowe solo.
Federal Charm are a tight outfit, with a well-oiled twin guitar attack underpinned by a rock solid rhythm section in bassist L D Morawski and monster drummer Danny Rigg, and they come across heavier live than on their recent album Across The Divide.  There’s undoubtedly potential there if they can write the songs to exploit it.
Nashville three-piece SIMO are a distinctly more mature proposition.  Their second album Let Love Show The Way pointed towards the Allman Brothers and psychedelic jam band influences, but this live set is a take no prisoners journey to the centre of your mind.
As he tunes up guitarist and vocalist J.D. Simo observes with a sly smile that it feels
J.D. Simo gives it some Ginsberg
claustrophobic because there are so many people in the room, before they get down to business with a wonky funk opener, on which he delivers a brain-warping solo.  That’s just an hors d’oeuvre though, before they launch into a slice of rock’n’roll violence in which Simo assaults his mic stand on the opening verse, ahead of an anarchic solo over racing rhythms, an interlude of skating slide, and a bout of microphone-free a capella vocals at the front of the stage.
It’s breathless stuff, but there’s some respite as they embark on a sweet blues, though with his soloing drenched in reverb to give it a piercing quality as they raise the stakes.  Simo is a wild man, with a physical intensity to his playing that’s not about striking poses, while Adam Abrashoff on drums and Elad Shapiro on bass add swathes of shake, rattle’n’roll.
They close their four song, 40 minute hurricane of a set with ‘I’d Rather Die In Vain’, featuring rippling, jazzy bass runs from Shapiro, and an impressive if unnecessary drum solo from Abrashoff – he doesn’t need this to prove his credentials, given that he and Shapiro serve up a blizzard of syncopation as a backdrop to Simo’s out-there guitar playing, now conjuring up all sorts of wild guitar tones without recourse to effects pedals.
You can make comparisons with the edginess of Jack White, or maybe the manic punk-jazz of White Denim’s early album Fits.  But I think the real clue to this lot is Simo’s avowed love
Aaron Keylock - don't mess with the kid
of the beat generation of Kerouac, Kesey and Allen Ginsberg.  Have a swatch at the wild torrent of Ginsberg’s ‘Howl’ and you’ll get the picture.
There are people out there who would have you believe that teenager Aaron Keylock is some kind of blues guitar wunderkind.  But I ain’t buying, I’m afraid.  What’s more, I think it’s unfair to tag him with those kind of expectations.
Don’t get me wrong, I think Keylock is a promising young guitarist. In particular he has a tasty line in slide guitar, with a Micky Moody tone to it.  But his vocals need work, and his songwriting is still immature, although occasionally he does manage to invest something simplistic like ‘That’s Not Me’ with a catchy chorus.  ‘Sun’s Gonna Shine’ has a nice jangly riff, but otherwise is pretty pedestrian until they whip up a bit of a storm at the finish.
On set closer ‘Against The Grain’, boldly sharing its title with a Rory Gallagher album, Keylock offers some more nifty slide playing before they crank things up with a focussed ending.  But he has a long way to go before he can bear closer comparison with someone like Gallagher, and he should be allowed to develop without that kind of burden.

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