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Hillbilly Vegas + Willie Dowling

Thursday 8th February 2024

The Cavern, Raynes Park, London

Exactly nine days after Tim Russell's glowing review and John Bull's spectacular photographs of Hillbilly Vegas supporting label-mate Luke Morley at London's O2 Academy, we couldn't resist going back for more last Thursday night at The Cavern in Raynes Park, as the Oklohoma-based six-piece headlined in their own right this time, with support from Willie Dowling.

Believe it or not we were both Cavern virgins, so this was a first for us at this very friendly, small but perfect South West London venue, as we arrived in good time for Willie of British eclecto Pop masters The Dowling Poole fame (minus former Lifesigns/Dr Hook bassist Jon of course), to see his support slot on the jammed packed stage. Indeed, we had been told a 7.45pm start, so by the time the singer-songwriter arrived on stage at around 9.15pm, we were obviously a bit concerned that we might have to sacrifice the tail end of Hillbilly Vegas's set to ensure that we would be able to get our last train back to the Garden Of England. As it turned out, we needn't have have worried.

Resembling a cross between Jeff Lynne and Ian Hunter, not only did the check-suited Dowling look the part, but he played the part with his 70s vibe, along with some great vocals plus his wizardry on his custom keyboard, which had been unceremoniously shunted right to the front of the small stage. Also with a good line in banter, keeping the expectant crowd amused, it was no surprise that the former Wildhearts keyboardist received an appreciative round of applause for his effervescent set, nicely lining things up for the main event.

Fresh from raising the roof last year as guests of Ted Nugent across the USA, Hillbilly Vegas landed back on British shores last month, with their Southern Rock anthems from their critically acclaimed album, 'The Great Southern Hustle'. Special guests to label-mate Luke Morley, on his six date tour, last Sunday they made their debut at Planet Rock's Winter's End festival in Trecco Bay, followed by a five-date series of handpicked headline shows of their own, of which the third leg was tonight.

Comprising Steve Harris - lead vocals/guitar, Stacy Thornburg - guitar, Johnny Reed - guitar, Todd Ronning (Bad Company) - bass, Troy Hollinger - drums and Geraldo Dominelli keyboards/guitar, they kicked off with 'Mason Jars And Moonlight', one of two songs that surprisingly didn't make the cut from their five-track 'Greetings' EP onto the aforementioned 'Southern Hustle'. This was followed a nice and tight cover of Shooter Jennings' 'Steady At The Wheel', as they continued in their well smoked, Southern flavour vein, with album opener 'High Time For A Good Time', as Thornburg's riff-ridden solo deservedly got some "hell yeahs" from the assembled Cavern hillbillies.

Harris's amusing intro and story about throwing a hot stone as hot as f**k (seriously) was indeed 'Something Crazy', although this unreleased Blues beat singalong track, that was also included in their Islington set, augurs well for their next album. Another left field hair raising story from Steve heralded the Honky Tonk of 'Southern Hustle's 'Can't Go Home', as he continued his stand-up routine, not only declaring his love of Welsh cakes following their Winter's End gig, but then also proceeded to compare Wales' hatred for the English with Oklohoma's "kiss my ass" love of Texas!

Cue another from 'Southern Hustle's 'Long Way Back' before another cover, and a nod to Scotland's very own Frankie Miller from Harris, with his Full House Blues vocal on Frankie's classic, 'Down The Honkytonk'. A deviation in the printed setlist, due to the late start (and/or Harris's comedic patter in between songs!), meant that we would get our last train home, although the down side was the loss of four or so songs, given this dynamic, fun-loving outfit were on a roll.

All was forgiven though, as it was time for the two big hitters from 'Southern Hustle', as the good-old fashioned Southern boogie continued with the anthemic 'Shake It Like A Hillbilly' plus 'Hell To Pay', the latter of which saw another mean guitar solo from Stacy. A superb evening's entertainment was rounded off topically, with a cover of AC/DC's 'Walk All Over You', the legend's having just announced two dates at Wembley Stadium in July.

A gig that kicked major ass, the night was complete as the band stayed around to chat to the delighted punters afterwards. And yes, we still did manage to catch our last train home, arriving back well after 1am, but boy was it worth it. Hell yeah!

AJ

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