So here’s a question. You can go see Joe Bonamassa in some arena for a hundred quid, or you can go see Northern Irishman Simon McBride and his trio play about twenty feet from you in a club for a fifth of the price – maybe less. What do you do?
To my mind it’s a no-brainer. McBride is a sizzling guitarist and a good singer, has a decent bank of material, and he and his band are brain-crushingly tight. More than that, they’re engaging in a way that recognises live performance is about more than just rolling out the tunes.
|Simon McBride - feeling as well as fret-frying|
They get off to a strong start with new song 'Don't Dare', and you get a clear sense of McBride’s oeuvre from their rock solid, driving rendition of Free’s ‘The Stealer’, followed by ‘Heartbreaker’, a rifftastic original in a heavy Bad Company vein. But ‘You Got A Problem’ underlines the breadth of McBride’s approach, starting off swingingly bluesy but veering into some Billy Whizz guitar work that’s also clever with it.
McBride explains that ‘Go Down Gamblin’’, from his Crossing The Line album, is in fact a Blood Sweat and Tears cover, for which he decided not to go with the original’s tuba solo. A good call, I think, but it’s a strong song and he makes it his own with some slithering guitar and use of harmonics at the end.
Throughout all of this McBride’s control of his sound is impeccable, and in fact their sound as a whole is big but pristine, as is evident on the slow-starting epic ‘Down To The Wire’, where they make good use of dynamics. But by the time they get to ‘Down To The River’ it’s not just about McBride producing a stunningly spooky, echo-imbued solo, as it’s prefaced by some banter with bassist and fellow Northern Irishman Dave Marks, who proves to be adept at taking the mick out of his boss for the rest of the night.
Marks isn’t just there as a comic turn though, as ‘Change’ demonstrates. He adds some slap bass to funky riffing from McBride, before embarking on a bass solo – which, remarkably, is good enough and witty enough to not send me running straight to the bar. Not to be left out, McBride gets into some funky interplay with him before going all jazzy ahead of an entertaining ‘cutting heads’ episode with Marks that’s wrapped up by McBride digging out the riff to 'Smoke
|McBride and Marks - rocktastic ribaldry|
Drummer Marty McCluskey (from guess where?) also gets a showcase, on ‘Fat Pockets’, which is similarly well handled – not overlong, and punctuated by brief injections from McBride and Marks.
A new song, ‘Show Me How To Love’, from a new album scheduled for next year, features a staccato verse and a chiming chorus, before they bring the curtain down with the bouncing, shuffling ‘Don’t Be A Fool’, which lends itself naturally to a singalong and sees McBride getting jazzy again before they hit the Stop button.
The encore is heralded by the grinding out of the riff to ‘Iron Man’ as a preamble to them rocking out on ‘Power Of Soul’. And believe me, when this lot get going they are serious contenders in the Aural Artillery Stakes.
McBride himself says that he’s more of a rock player than a bluesman, but there’s plenty of feeling as well as fleet-fingered fretwork in this show – and there’s a bucketload of fun from the comic double act of McBride and Marks into the bargain. I'd seen them before, but this was a night when the Simon McBride Trio made plenty of friends, and next time they’re around I’ll be seeing them again – it’ll take a really big name to stop me.