Robert Jon And The Wreck + Meghan Parnell and Dave Barnes
Saturday 11th February 2023
PowerHaus, Camden, London
Paraphrasing an original review of The George Thorogood Band, these guys should change their name to Robert Jon and the Wreckers - they wrecked Camden PowerHaus on Saturday night!!
I certainly wrecked my vocal chords, singing and cheering…
The band’s backstory is of all California boys who have mostly been playing together since 2011, with their current guitarist joining them in 2017. Their sound has been a mix of classic Southern Rock, infused with a good Blues overtone and since 2017, some healthy nods to late 60s/early 70s Psychedelia and Prog.
Their output has been increasing momentum and quality since the first album and any one of them would merit inclusion in your library.
So, what are the Wrecking Crew like live?
They walked on stage and launched into ‘Pain No More’ - an up-beat rocker in their trademark sound, nothing too remarkable but a nice warm-up for both band and audience and it showed how tight the band are.
This rolled nicely into ‘Do You Remember’, a track that, when I first heard it on the radio, thought was a ‘lost’ Allman Brothers track. Dropping the pace slightly from the opening number, Robert Jon’s whimsical lyrics blend superbly with Henry James’s mellifluous slide guitar work to weave a classic late 60s/early 70s sound.
Back up-tempo again for ‘Come At Me’, a cheeky dig at modern self-obsession wrapped up as a nice rocker. The pauses in this really illustrate how tight the band is, and there is nice space between the instruments on all of their productions so the layers of sound are easy to follow individually.
‘She’s a Fighter’ is an ode to feisty women the world over, with lyrics that suggest someone has been on the receiving end! Put to a Rock track with some suitable crescendos and more singalong lyrics, by this time most of the room are joining in with the band and the room is getting steamy.
Just as we were getting into a mellow groove, it was time to let the metalheads loose! ‘Waiting For Your Man’, introduced by Espantman’s high-energy drumming and underpinned by Murrel’s thundering bass, had far more energy than the album track and had the whole room bouncing around and whipping out their air guitars.
‘Rescue Train’ gives Jake Abernethie a chance to shine on the keyboards - these are all great musicians, and apparently devoid of any overriding ego.
‘High Time’ whips us straight back to an early 70s Rock/Soul vibe that any one of a dozen top bands could have played back in the day, and these guys do it full justice. If you’re not tapping your toes by the end of this song, you need medical attention.
Giving us a chance to get our breath back, ‘When I Die’ has a sombre tone and deep rumbling bass which sounds like a heavy, slow-rolling train.
Dropping into full slow-ballad genre, ‘Gold’ feels like it really comes from Robert Jon’s heart and segues neatly into ‘Oh Miss Carolina’, their classic wistful Rock-ballad which seems to be all over the radio recently and has everybody singing - it’s sure to still be an anthem in ten years’ time.
Just as everybody’s got their breath back - and a tear in their eye - The Blues Brothers-alike ‘Shine A Light On Me Brother’ Gospel-rocker gets the whole joint bouncing again. It’s a real belter and crowd pleaser – many bands don’t create a song like this in their lifetime, and the fact this band already have several in their repertoire is testimony to the talent within.
‘Cold Night’ brings us back to somewhere between the Allman Brothers and Wishbone Ash - good flowing vocals and music, craftmanship without being too showy.
By now the band need a breather, but with no respect for the average audience age they come back out for the full-length ‘Last Light On The Highway’ - a real classic, tuneful, and showcasing all the band with individual solos.
The band are:
Robert Jon Burrison – founder, lead vocals and guitar; Andrew Espantman on drums; Henry James on lead guitar; Warren Murrel on bass; Jake Abernathie on keys, and they all chip in with vocals.
The band’s relaxed air on stage belies their precision and power, and they are generous to each other with physical and musical space, always moving to allow each soloist into the spotlight.
Verdict: If you like them, go see them! If you don’t know, go anyway - they will tick at least one box for you!
Special guests on the night is Meghan Parnell (singer) and Dave Barnes (guitar, vocals), two-sevenths of Canadian band Bywater Call, which usually include a brass section. They have visited the UK before and are warming up for this Robert Jon and the Wreck tour, but the full band would have been a great headliner in their own right.
Several dates into the tour they both engage easily with the audience while getting set up and are raring to get started.
The opener is a track from their album, ‘Lover Down Slow’ - as the title suggests, a slow Blues which gives Meghan a great showcase for her smokey vocal tones and Dave lays down some matching warm sounds on his acoustic. It also gives glimpses of the power this lady has….. more later!
They have obviously done their research rather than turn up and belt out a few numbers, take the money, and thank you - having earlier visited the nearby Amy Winehouse statue, they produce a lovely rich version of ‘Back to Black’ which I’m sure Amy herself would be pleased to hear. Confident, soft when it needs to be and starting to open the throttle, Ms. P. starts to let fly - this is getting good!
A nice R&B version of ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin’, finally gliding in to ‘Come On In My Kitchen’, and the lady is at full volume now!
She has great pitch, hits the note bang on first time rather than sliding up or down to it like many singers….. this really adds definition to her sound and cuts through the chatterboxes like a knife.
The guitar man is in his element too, really doing the originals justice with his chordwork and picking, and some deft bottleneck adding some gloss.
They change tempo completely now with ‘Bring Me Down’, Dave picking up a Les Paul and bottleneck and Meghan going all through her range, from soft Country to hard Blues.
The set finishes with ‘Silver Lining’, a number off their first album and Dave pushes out some rhythmic guitar and a neat solo, and Meghan gives her range a final workout and gets the audience involved.
Highly recommended - don’t just arrive for the main event if you are seeing Robert Jon and the Wreck, and let’s hope they bring the full band back next time.