Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Wille And The Bandits, Rainbreakers - Voodoo Rooms, Edinburgh, 21 March 2019

Wille And The Bandits are a chameleon-like bunch.  They can shift musical colours to take on different guises, but ultimately they’re still themselves.  What am I on about, you’re asking?  Let me explain.
WATB open and close the night with a couple of songs that are pretty much straight out of the classic rock mould.  Opener ‘Victim Of The Night’ is a snappy, melodic affair, given a distinctive twist by Wille Edwards’ picked guitar solo.  At the other end of the show, encore ‘1970’ is a big, bright tribute to the music of those heady days, with a stomping riff and a jubilant singalong.
In between though, the Bandits mix it up a fair bit, and to good effect.  For example, there’s a lot of miles between Cornwall and South Africa, but like Dan Patlansky they have a handy way with a twitching groove - as on ‘Make Love’, which Matt Brooks throws himself into with abandon on his 6-string bass, and also on the twisted funk of the excellent ‘Keep It On The Downlow’, both from latest album Paths.
Wille And The Bandits - Three's Company
But they can also get post-grunge anthemic, firstly on ‘Find My Way’, which motors along on a wave of guttural slide from Edwards, and later on the similar-but-better ’One Way’, on which Edwards’ slide hurtles along, and the audience are easily roped into the shoutalong chorus.  There’s also a well done guitar/bass duel between Edwards and Brooks, comically introduced in a demonic voice by drummer Andrew Naumann – which is great fun in itself, though for me it kinda interrupted the momentum of one of their most immediate songs.
But if all that sounds just like different variations of rocktastic, Wille and the gang have the imagination to range across broader pastures.  On ‘Watch You Grow’ Arabic-styled lap steel conjures up a reflective mood, to which Naumann adds a further twist with African percussion using a Tongue drum, while Brooks contributes washes of pedal keyboards. The overall effect is sensitive, and indeed lovely.  Meanwhile a cover of ‘Black Magic Woman’ weighs in with lap steel and some more interesting percussion to create a very different sounding intro, before they settle into a cantering rhythm, with dazzling bass from Brooks that has Edwards dancing happily on the other side of the stage.
Then on ‘Mammon’ they combine electric double bass, djembe drumming, and classical-sounding acoustic guitar to shift from a gentle intro to a relaxed, jazzy, European sound, with the addition of vocal harmonies.  Then Brooks sticks with the double bass, this time with a bow in hand, to deliver an eerie, filmic solo that sounds like something from the netherworld, as a preamble to ‘Four Million Days’.
Got to admit, ‘Virgin Eyes’ seems like a bit of an untidy affair compared to the above offerings, but it does build to a scorching instrumental section, with Edwards letting rip on lap steel.  But they punch their way home by getting very heavy on ‘Jack The Lad’ and ‘Bad News’ to close their main set, with some slithering Delta slide en route – just one way Edwards finds to contribute properly satisfying guitar work, to go with the lightness of touch in his fuzzy plucking on ‘Judgement Day’, and the way his acoustic playing serves the song on the likes of ‘Keep Your Head Up’.
Wille And The Bandits have been at this game for a while.  They aren’t a bunch of young
guns naively playing at being a rock band.  There’s no posturing, just affable engagement with the audience.  They’re grown-ups, producing material that reflects their spirit of adventure, and some cracking musicianship to boot.  Should they be commanding bigger audiences?  I think the time may have come.
Rainbreakers get soulful and summery
Tour support Rainbreakers may be a less innovative outfit, but they still combine some interesting elements in a well-defined sound.  Somehow I never did quite get round to reviewing their debut album after grabbing a copy following their set at the Carlisle Blues Rock Festival, but this was another encouraging performance that appreciative applause from the audience.
Opener ‘Heavy Soul’ grabs the attention with a pummelling riff, while ‘Lay It On Me’ features funky bass and rhythm guitar, and pleasing interplay between the two guitars.  ‘Lost With You’ is a chilled love song, with a summery solo from Sam Edwards and a typically soulful vocal from Ben Edwards, while ‘Waiting On You’ shows a different kind of subtlety with the ‘Rain Song’ style strummings of its intro.  There’s another crunching riff on closer ‘When My Train’, which may not be anything wildly original but is still well executed, with Sam Edwards going to town on lead guitar during a rousing crescendo.  There are acts of a similar ilk out there with bigger reputations.  I reckon Rainbreakers only need a bit more experience and live craft to give them a run for their money.

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