Black Country Communion
Thursday 4th January
Eventim Apollo, London
If you needed further affirmation that Black Country Communion do indeed fill that 70's live void vacated by Led Zeppelin, then you just had to be at London's Hammersmith Apollo on Thursday night to witness their two hour set. OK - their chequered history as a result of their pinkies being in numerous musical pies doesn't see them touring very often - but when they do - you just have to savour the moment. This was the second of the Anglo-American Rock group's two exclusive UK concerts in support of the release of their latest album 'BCCIV' released in September last year - their first studio album since 2013's 'Afterglow'.
Similar to 2010, the Supergroup, comprising vocalist/bassist Glenn Hughes (Deep Purple, Trapeze), drummer Jason Bonham (Airrace, Led Zeppelin, Foreigner) Derek Sherinian (Dream Theatre, Alice Cooper, Billy Idol) and Blues-Rock guitarist/vocalist Joe Bonamassa, did a double header playing Wolverhampton Civic Hall on Tuesday night followed by this London gig two night's later. Indeed we were at Shepherds Bush Empire six years ago and also at London's High Voltage Festival in July 2011 - unbelievably the last time they were seen in the smoke. With two albums already under their belts, our take on that beautiful Summer's day was "BCC's strength is that their sound is fixed firmly in the mid 70s, and so their songs already sound classic. Once BCC’s original material becomes more familiar this lot will go places fast. This Supergroup is still coming to terms with being a band!!"
Fast forward six year's to what we described as "the most unlikely album release of the year". Five years after a reportedly acrimonious split, ten new songs penned by Hughes and Bonamassa, all wrapped up with producer extraordinaire Kevin Shirley's magic touch and you had a barnstorming collection of tunes which we said "could easily make up the best Rock album of 2017." Cue our announcement on the day of the Wolverhampton gig that they had indeed won our 2017 WRC Best Reviewed CD award and we were consequently walking towards the Apollo with their award tucked under our arm to deservedly pass on to the band!
A dapper suited Bonamassa confounded his fashion critics as he walked on to the Apollo stage, the goatee bearded Sherinian the only one of his three amigos without shades, with Bonham donning his trademark beanie and Hughes resplendent in his Union Jack jacket. Any thoughts on Brexit were duly discarded as they re-emphasised the strength of 'BCCIV' by opening, following a snippet of the 'Big Train' drum intro, with 'Sway' - Sherinian immediately taking the spotlight, and despite the unrelenting guitar and drums of the two JB's, his underlying keyboards brought an extra depth to this rocker. Add to this, the vocals by Hughes and this full on song, again reminiscent of classic Zeppelin, was a swaggering five minutes of sheer joy. What an opener. 'Wanderlust' - another from 'BCCIV' was sandwiched in between four classics which took us back to the Summer of 2011. Firstly, Bonham's intro on the still blistering and punchy 'One Last Soul' from their debut album with Joe rocking back and forth, a number which Hughes included in his own Islington Assembly Hall set last year - Glenn then taking the opportunity to tell those assembled not to believe everything they read about BCC in the media! "It's good to be home" declared Hughes before they played the still very beautiful 'Save Me' - crafted by another awesome guitar solo from Bonamassa. Talking of Joe - you have to do a double take to remember that the still spectacular 'Song Of Yesterday', despite being written by JB, is actually a BCC release - in fact it is the only BCC song that Bonamassa has ever included in his personal set other than once performing 'The Battle For Hadrian's Wall'. Sung jointly by Bonamassa and Hughes, and complemented by Joe's outstanding guitar solo - this was utter perfection - whilst the final part of this cracking 2011 quartet was a breakneck rendition of 'The Outsider' - the crowd devouring each song as if they've never been away, with each solo greeted by a huge cheer, the choruses sung loudly and the fists raised at all the right moments.
Hughes appropriately praised the crowd as "beautiful people" before 'Wanderlust' - a classic Bonamassa song with its great pace, a highly infectious groove and a singable chorus, plus another great ascending drum and guitar combination - not to mention Sherinian's rocking keys - made this song another absolute highlight, although the jury is out as to whether Bonamassa should do the vocals on this one and not Hughes? An irony of the set was not only was this the live debut of 'BCCIV' - but would you believe it was also the live debut of their third album 'Afterglow'? The aptly named 'This Is Your Time' from 'Afterglow' - which perhaps should be renamed 'Lost In Time' - with its driving riff - finally received the airing it deserved - although this was the only track from 'Afterglow' included in their set. It was then back to two classics from 'BCC2' - Hughes explaining the background to 'Cold' - all about people we have lost - although there was nothing cold with Bonamassa's corking guitar intro which was followed by the aforementioned 'The Battle For Hadrian's Wall' with perfect vocals from Glenn and Joe equally matched by Derek's mean Hammond.
It was then three from 'IV' - firstly 'The Crow' (a possible reference to the cover of 'Afterglow'?), another storming rocker featuring guitar, drums and keys solos with a Rage Against The Machine like bass line and powerful vocals again from Hughes. Next up was their second single from the album 'Over My Head', with its instantly catchy riff and a great chorus, although this time it was Bonham's time to shine, playing with such force and precision that there's no doubt it would have made Bonham senior proud. BCC were accompanied on last of this 'IV' trilogy by Dublin legend Gerry O'Connor who played a mean fiddle and mandolin on BCCIV's epic 'The Last Song For My Resting Place, the only track on the album with Bonamassa on lead vocals, with its Celtic influence inevitably resulting in mass hand clapping - in a story all about Wallace Harvey, the band leader and violinist on the Titanic who played and perished as the ship went down.
If we needed cheering up after that sad story then cue the other JB and an awesome drum solo, before BCC closed out their impressive set with 'Man In The Middle' - BCC2's stand out driving riff ridden rocker that, if you needed reminding, showcased not what a great vocalist Hughes is, but also what a great bass guitarist Glenn is as well. And if you wanted more dirty bass, then it was inevitable I suppose that they finished with their signature tune 'Black Country' - which took us back to Glenn's set at Ramblin' Man Fair last July when he heralded the impending return of BCC by covering this fan favourite. BCC naturally obliged the ecstatic crowds shouts of "more" as they opened their encore sequence with the Zep like crunching riff of first single 'Collide' - the opener on 'BCCIV' - its statement of intent to blow away the five year old cobwebs - which they inevitably nailed with Hughes vocals soaring and wailing in equal measure, to powerhouse performances by Bonham and Bonamassa. Not to be outdone, Sherinian's contribution on an equally awesome performance of BCC2's 'Faithless' saw BCC finally round off a memorable night with a Deep Purple cover from the album 'Burn' - but not the usual title track set closer but 'Mistreated' - Hughes for good measure reminding everyone of his Purple roots as he asked Bonamassa "to talk to me Joe" which JB's guitar duly obliged on this lucky thirteen minute epic. Wow - what a way to end a gig!
Six year's since we saw them as a collective, Bonamassa is still truly the axe hero of his generation and is still the perfect foil for Hughes’ still-superb voice. Jason Bonham is still a chip off the old block on drums and Derek Sherinian still adds huge depth to the sound on Hammond organ. Six year's down the line and this Supergroup is still coming to terms with being a band given their well-documented commitments but boy-oh-boy, it still is a beautiful thing to behold. Let's pray we don't have to wait as long again for their next tour and 'BCCV'.
AJ (Photos courtesy of Christie Goodwin and Eric Duvet)