Joanne Shaw Taylor + Dan Patlansky
Wednesday 15th November
Royal Festival Hall
When is a gig not a gig? When it's at the Royal Festival Hall. Built in the 1950's, the RFH nestles on the trendy Southbank area of London and is the home to The London Philharmonic orchestra and host to a wide variety of arts. What was once a modern design is now both looking dated and space age in equal measures. It's wide main concert hall seats 2,500 in relatively plush surroundings with the main seating flanked by obliquely situated boxes, including a large Royal box, facing the stage. So as the crowd were delicately ushered to their seats it felt rather more like a performance of the Royal Variety show than a gig. As the lights go down Keyboard player Tom Gatza, bassist Jonathan Murphy and drummer Felix Dehmel take to the spartan stage to herald the entrance of South African blues sensation Dan Patlansky. The nattily dressed 36 year old from Johannesburg soon showed why he is touring with the likes of Joe Satriani. Sporting a fancy weskit and jacket, Dan is clearly aware of his surroundings. The stage lighting is minimalist but very effective and, although somewhat dated, the venue can boast an excellent sound system and sound engineers. The sound was clear, well balanced and at good levels. So nothing like most gigs.
Opening track 'Sonova Faith' gives Patlansky a chance to air all of his licks and skills on his battered old Fender Strat. What appears to have been a beautiful sunburst colour is now worn beyond recognition. No doubt on the list of some guitar relicer somewhere. One thing that becomes apparent from the start is that the tracks are less faithful recitals of the album tracks and more a chance for the quartet to jam around the structure of a song. So it also becomes clear that the four are extremely tight and obviously enjoy playing off of each other. 'Stop The Messin' has Patlansky growling out the lyrics in his raspy, almost nasty voice. I say almost because it's not nasty, it's enjoyable, giving the vocal edginess to his Blues to match is fret skills. The interplay with the keyboards is exciting and it's clearly a more commercially minded track that pleases the audience. Not that you could tell as the audience sit in their regal splendour absorbing the performance with all the English reticence that you would imagine from such a high brow location. Whereas 'Stop The Messin' is an upbeat Blues, 'Heartbeat' brings the tone down to a more melancholic level with more virtuoso guitar and dark vocals. The new album 'Perfection Kills' is released in February 2018 and we are treated to a preview of the opening track 'Dog Day'. This does appear to be a recital of the track, rather than a lengthy jam, with Patlansky showing off his wah skills and Dehmel providing some excellent percussive accompaniment. It's a short song with Hendrix overtones that makes me eager to hear the rest of the album. 'Still Wanna Be Your Man' slows things down again with a tender song interspersed with searing solos and a voice that had me thinking of Alice Cooper. Not quite sure why but there you go. Closing track, and extended glorified jam is 'My Chana' which gives Patlansky to show off and showboat in equal measures. Jamming with his band the South African shows off every skill with guitar played in various positions. This guy has it all and is not afraid to show it. The set ends with a round of applause form the crowd and a rush to the ice cream sellers lining the aisles during the intermission. You don't get that down at The Underworld.
Dan Patlansky setlist
Stop The Messin'
Still Wanna Be Your Man
As the intermission bell rings and the lights go down the audience take their seats for the main event, we wonder what we are going to get. I'm no stranger to a Joanne Shaw Taylor set but the Black Country sensation had to cancel her previous Bristol show due to ill health. That fact that she was here at all was a result but how would she sound. For those that do not know of her (shame on you) JST is another of our country's young Blues geniuses with a sultry, almost husky voice. Tonight, it had extra huskiness but lost none of it's strength or delight. Taking to the stage, to the sound of ZZ Top's 'Jesus Left Chicago', in her usual back attire, with her silky soft long blond hair falling around her shoulders, the usual red shoes were tonight replaced by more sparkly silver boots. A nod to our regal surroundings I suppose.
With her trusty blond Telecaster plugged into an array of Fender Amps, Joanne greets her loyal following, apologises for the state of her voice before launching into a superb rendition of her 'Dyin' To Know' track from the 'Wild' album. This is one of the tracks she performed so well on that Jules Holland show last year. Joanne is a well known devotee of Stevie Ray Vaughan which is reflected in her powerful Rock Blues. In earlier days, at less imposing venues, JST was know to have played the odd SRV or Hendix cover. These days, with six albums behind her, she has plenty of her own fine material to be entertaining the crowds. Supporting Joanne on stage are regulars Oliver Perry on drums and the iconic Luigi Casanova, replete with dreadlocks, on bass. With the addition of keyboards, JST's back line provide a fuller sound to compliment her exquisite guitar skills. Watching Joanne lose herself in the beauty of the music, with her face contorting as rapidly as the strings on her trusty Fender, you are drawn into the rapture of her world. How can you not enjoy watching someone enjoying themselves as much as he evidently does.
'Nothing To Lose', also from the latest 'Wild' album, is a heartfelt lament of a love lost which Joanne salves with some electric guitar playing with a warm keyboard side order. Switching to a beautiful Les Paul, the sniffing JST unleashes the third track from the 'Wild' album - 'No Reason To Stay'. There are few finer sights than an unleashed JST with a Les Paul. Easy tiger, remember where you are. The Les Paul remains too for 'Jump That Train' from the 'Diamonds In The Dirt' album, whose, title track follows thereafter. With a proper heavy Blues riff it has a funky lilt to it which Italian icon Casanova provides his own lesson in love. The excellent sound quality again shows itself as the Gibson provides a beautiful melodic chime to counter the almost soft husky vocals. And with the sultry 'Tried Tested And True' to follow we really are getting the full (royal) family of tracks. All interspersed with regular sips of honey and lemon to keep the voice going. It sounds fine to me.
When I first saw Joanne play at my local small club, The Beaverwood Club, it was to see a young artist learning her trade by touring the pubs and clubs up and down the country. With her parents in tow as support and management, she toured her debut album 2008 album 'White Sugar'. As well as being impressed by her guitar skills, and exquisite covers, I was also impressed with her own material. But the one song that caught my interest was her cover of The Hoax's 'Bones'. What was a staple track for years has fallen out of circulation in recent years so it was the highlight of the night for me when my favourite track was included. It's a bouncy track with a great groove to it and is a fine showcase for another JST trip around the fretboard. I'm a happy man. I quietly applaud to ensure that i don't spoil the regal ambience. I don't want to get carted off to The Tower for a short back and sides.
And this wasn't to be the only cover, as the set progressed we get a continual honours list of Blues excellence from her back catalogue as well as a cover of Johnny Mathis 'Wild Is The Wind' which she dedicates to one of her recently departed heroes David Bowie who recorded it for his 1976 album 'Station To Station'. Although a faithful rendition, this version went from a lament to end in a full blown Blues jam. If you like Blues, you will love this. Set closer is rockin' Blues track 'Tied And Bound' from the 'Almost Always Never' album. A tired and weary JST signs off with a flourish to an audience who politely request more. Although struggling she duly obliges with the regular closer 'Going Home'. Back on her trusty Telecaster she wrings the last of her energy, and every last note from her considerable repertoire of skills to the finally clapping accompaniment of the audience. With a final goodbye, and an acknowledgement to how far she has come from such humble beginnings (The Beaverwood Club gets a mention), she melts into the background to rest an recuperate before her next performance at Birmingham's Symphony Hall.
As we exit the red carpeted halls, with the assistance of the finely honed ushers, via some excellent bars, we are left to muse the evening. Great music, great entertainment in a different type of venue. In these days of live music where the Joe Bonammasa's of this world think it acceptable to charge exorbitant prices, JST invites us to share in the love of her superb Blues in a high brow establishment for under thirty quid. Having played pubs, clubs, rock venues and iconic stages, you can forgive the girl for trying something different. For me, whilst I loved the performance, and enjoyed the music immensely, it wasn't a gig. It didn't have that feel if intimacy and excitement that you get from small clubs, or even some of the larger venues. It did feel like a stage performance watched from afar. Although the Royal Box was unoccupied tonight, the Royal Festival Hall was pretty full, and although no members of the Royal family had dropped in to groove, our very own Queen of Blues very much commanded the stage. We are amused.
Dyin' to Know
Nothing to Lose
No Reason to Stay
Jump That Train
Diamonds in the Dirt
Tried, Tested & True
(The Hoax cover)
Time Has Come
You Should Stay, I Should Go
Just Another Word
Wanna Be My Lover
Wild Is The Wind
(Johnny Mathis cover) (Dedicated to David Bowie)
Tied And Bound