Tuesday 15th October 2019
The Underworld, Camden, London
Chicago's JD Simo stopped off at London's The Underworld in Camden last Tuesday night, the penultimate night of his European tour, duly showing off not only his guitar and vocal abilities, but also the incredible rhythm section of drummer and ex-Simo bro Adam Abrashoff and bassist Andraleia Buch. We were already well acquainted with the Nashville-based singer-guitarist, formerly of Simo, their albums ‘Let Love Show The Way’ (2016) and ‘Rise & Shine’ (2017), deservedly met with huge praise, although it seems light years away from when we first saw JD with his guitar case, fighting his way through the cramped crowd at the St. Moritz Club in Soho in November 2015. In fact the last time we saw JD was this March at London's Royal Festival Hall when he did a solo set as special guest to Tommy Emmanuel.
His debut solo album, ‘Off At 11’, released also in March, is a Psychedelic, free-flowing, dynamic kaleidoscope of sound, energy and vibe that incorporates elements of Acid Rock, traditional Blues, Folk, Soul and free form Jazz around JD’s improvisational skills. Influences expectedly not only include Hendrix and Peter Green but also more diverse influences such as Captain Beefheart, Miles Davis, The Allman Brothers and Lightning Hopkins. The recording of this electric tour de force of eight musically dense songs took place over a three day period in the Summer of 2018 with no edits and no other studio trickery, plus also featured bassist Luke Easterling filling in between ex-Simo bandmate Elad Shapiro and Andraleia. With no support tonight, we also had the pleasure of an extended interview and chat with JD before the gig, where amongst other things we discussed former band Simo, JD's knee, his European and forthcoming US tour, being away from home, recording 'Off At 11' and his next album, his band, pipe smoking, Duck Dunn, Tommy Emmanuel, The Royal Festival Hall, Cindy Walker, The Grateful Dead, Holiday's and Guitar Clinics!
Without trying, JD immediately endeared himself to a generous crowd (including Connor Selby, no less), thanks to a technical malfunction, as he broke the Underworld ice by telling his well greased engine room to "hold on - no point pretending" before the gremlin was well and truly sorted on the Lenny Kravitz sounding opener 'People Say', from Simo's aforementioned 'Rise & Shine', JD pretty much setting out his guitar solo stall for the rest of the set with his familiar grimace going hand in glove (or should that be foot), with his cry baby pedal, before the slide Blues of Slim Harpo's 'I Got Love If You Want It' from 'Off At 11', with the Ludwig fronting Abrashoff very much picking up his impressive sticks from when we last saw him performing with Simo at the O2 Academy Islington in December 2016. The Soul Man t-shirt wearing JD thanked the crowd for their applause, before launching into the, yet to be released, short, but ever so groovy 'One Of Those Days', think The Isley Brothers, with Simo cooly demonstrating his upper octaves. From Soul Man to 'Soul Of A Man', a Blind Willie Johnson cover, which saw red wonder woman Andraleia going through her platform boot paces on bass guitar, complemented not only by a great vocal by JD, but also some exceptional psychedelic/wah wah guitar to boot.
Simo then changed his guitar, exclaiming "we love it, yeah, baby Blues" - cue more grimacing from JD and more boots jumpin' from Andraleia on 'Temptation', another from 'Off At 11', before the brilliant, new, riff ridden fire of 'Higher Plane', with another great vocal from Simo, simultaneously putting his pedal to the metal and making his cry bay squeal on its manic outro. And talking of fire, proceedings were literally getting hotter, as the sweat from JD was dripping on to the stage, so why not turn up the heat with a brilliant take on Isaac Hayes' funky 'Hyperbolicsyllabicsesquedalymistic', with the remarkable Simo managing to sweep the guitar spectrum with sounds ranging from Jan Akkerman to The Who. Amazing. Call me romantic (and old), but the slower, beautifully constructed and refreshing 70's sounding 'I Want To Love' from 'Rise & Shine', always takes me back to plucking up enough courage to ask for that last dance at the Disco! JD's Stylistics style falsetto, underpinned by some more great slide guitar, was definitely keeping the Blues alive.
Simo then aired two more new songs, the Rock of 'Love', a microcosm of his set with an awesome guitar solo/vocal followed by another guitar change, and despite the slower Blues vibe of 'Late At Night', this saw the band rocking out all over the stage. To be honest, it's still great to hear the ghost of Simo, and in particular, an epic twelve minute version of 'Long May You Sail', one of only two tracks played tonight from their outstanding 'Let Love Show The Way' album, and an opportunity for the equally talented Buch and Abrashoff to duly show off their solo wares. And if you have never seen JD perform 'With A Little Help From My Friends', then you are definitely missing a trick. Suffice to say that Simo always does John and Paul so proud, particularly when he hits Cocker's famous note squarely on the chin. Just gets you every time. And to finish off, it was indeed lucky thirteen when the band returned for their encore, with the explosive Psychedelic Mountain sounding 'I'd Rather Die In Vain', another jewel in the crown from 'Let Love Show The Way', with some extraordinary slide and morse code fret work from JD to complete a memorable evening. JD now returns to the States for an Autumn/Fall tour - make sure you check out his new album when it's released at the end of this year.