Thursday, May 9, 2019

Ana Popovic - Oran Mor, Glasgow, 8 May 2019

It’s a damp and miserable evening in Glasgow – or dreich, as we say here in Scotland.  But Ana Popovic certainly succeeds in raising the temperature in Oran Mor with her brand of funky rocking blues.  After a brief, driving soul curtain-raiser from the rest of her band, complete with squealing horns, the lady makes her entrance and proceeds to lights the fuse by leading them in a blistering instrumental.
That sets the tone for an opening barrage of take-no-prisoners funkadelicness from a band that manages to be at once tight as a drum and loose as a goose, featuring some jaw
Serbian siren singes fretboard alert
dropping guitar work from their boss.  Often if I were to say that a guitarist is capable of unleashing a torrent of notes, it wouldn’t be a compliment.  But it has to be said that in the hands of Ana Popovic it’s done with eye-popping intent.
They blast through chunks of funk like ‘Can You Stand The Heat’ and ‘Object Of Obsession’ with plenty of variation, from a brief bass showcase over jazzy piano chords, to Ms P exploring the apron of the stage for a succession of zinging solos, to a guitar and keys duel.  Throughout all this Popovic tends to sport a look of total self-assurance, mistress of all she surveys.  And no wonder.
It’s all a bit relentless mind you, not helped by the sound being just a bit too in-yer-face.  I’m rarely one to complain about volume, but there’s a tendency for things to sound overly shrill until later in the set.
Whatever, it’s a relief to get a breather when they downshift into ‘Long Road Down’ a more relaxed tale of western migration – albeit with some brisk wah-wah riffing – on which the horns get their groove on before another blinding solo from Popovic. She then cools things off further with a cover of Tom Waits’ ‘New Coat Of Paint’, bringing a N’Awlins horn vibe together with jazzy piano runs.  Both the trumpet and sax player get solo turns, while Popovic totally nails Waits’ lazy vocal phrasing.  ‘Johnny Ray’ completes a triplet of more
Aaaand - breathe . . . .
laid back tunes, all smoky downbeat jazziness, and featuring a fluttering, left-hand-only, pin-drop quiet guitar passage of extraordinary control.
Then she ups the funk ante again with ‘If Tomorrow Was Today’ to shake everyone’s butts back into motion, before launching into the joint-jumping blues of ‘How’d You Learn To Shake It Like That’, with the classic lines “Your daddy was a preacher, your mama was an alley cat”, and a strafing slide solo to boot.
‘Unconditional’ starts off in easy-going mode before developing a breakneck call and response passage for guitar and keys, while ‘Summer Rain’ features a full-on eyeballs-out solo – not so much a sun shower as a tropical downpour.
You’d scarcely think the woman has a new album to flog, given that she leaves it for over an hour before she slots in the loose-limbed title track from Like It On Top, followed by the bump’n’grind of ‘Brand New Man’.  But if those provide another pause for breath, it’s only in readiness for ‘Show You How Strong You Are’, which closes the show with showcases for band members all round before they wallop into a ‘Going Down’ riff that ultimately melds into a rip-roaring ‘Crosstown Traffic’, replete with another dazzling firework display of lead guitar.
After that the brief, sun-kissed and swinging ‘Lasting Kind Of Love’, from the new album, is something of an anti-climax.  Or maybe it’s just a final exhalation to let the crowd recover as they head out the door. I certainly needed a lie down – a wow performance to be sure, but a
bit more blues to leaven all the funkification, and the foot off the pedal a bit more, would create more light, shade, and balance.  As a first encounter with the Ana Popovic live experience though, this was an eye-opener and then some.
Ben Poole - "Where'd I drop my pick?"
What to say of support act Ben Poole, preceding that force of nature?  I’ve liked Poole since picking up his Live At The Royal Albert Hall album a few years, but this brief curate’s egg of a set left me feeling that he’s still not fulfilling his potential. He produces a solid opening with the chunky chords and beefy rhythm of ‘Take It No More’ – you’d better bet you’ll get a meaty groove with Wayne Proctor on drums.  ‘Start The Car’ is a funky strut to get toes tapping, on which Poole produces an interesting flight-of-the-bumblebee segment in an otherwise overlong solo.
‘Don’t Cry For Me’ is a moody slowie with the kind of soulfulness that suits his voice, and the restrained grooving passage of his solo displays feeling, though for me the big and dirty uptempo section that follows is less interesting.  But the closing ‘Anytime You Need Me’, the title track of his latest album, certainly fits the bill.  With its brassy riff, punchy vocal delivery that’s one of his strengths, interesting shifts in tempo and volume, and a scrabbling solo over bubbling bass runs from Beau Barnard while Proctor holds it all together, it's worthy of its big finish.  Others may disagree, but I think a bit more discipline in his soloing would serve Poole well, allowing him to focus more on his undoubted ability to deliver a tune.

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