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Rockin' The Blues

Tuesday 4th June 2019

The Forum, Kentish Town, London

There's something magical in meeting up with like minded individuals to share a pint and enjoy music together. We all have our loves and our likes and it's fun to share different perspectives of the same artists. Just compare any two music reviews and you will see that one man's champ is another man's chump. So meeting up with Mother tonight at the Forum are regular sidekick and ace snapper Rockrpix legend John Bull and fellow Wrinkly Rocker reviewer Peter Elphick. Although the beer drinking pre-event review wasn't quite as planned as Pete managed to miss the opening act due to 'travel issues' and JB only drinks pints of PG Tips when he is 'working'. Ho hum, it's left to yours truly to support the pre-event hospitality. The things i have to do in the name of journalism.
London's Forum tonight hosts a triumvirate of talent spanning the generations who perfectly showcase the Rockier end of the Blues scale, No surprise that tonight's set sees a Rockier slant to the Blues genre - the name sort of gives it away. What was a surprise was that the pre-event discussion with JB about lighting, security and Darjeeling was interrupted by the entrance of the opening act 15 minutes earlier than scheduled. Axel Rose take note. As a result, the excellent Forum stalls were slightly quieter than usual missing a number of punters, including the hapless Pete, as Planet Rock's Paul Anthony takes to the stage to announce the beginning of the last night of the Rockin' The Blues tour. Enter Kris Barras and his band. Kris is a young bearded hulk of a man who in his cut down NWOCR t-shirt and ubiquitous tattoos looks every part the MMA cage fighter he once was. But whilst he may once have brutally battered the bejesus out of his opponents he now fingers the frets with a fine feeling. Sporting a blond Tele through a modern Kemper modelling amp, the blond behemoth ably demonstrates what todays rising Blues stars are all about. Absolutely killer sound is lovingly squeezed out of the most endearing of Fenders stable.
Opening track 'Propane' has a funky kind of groove that welcome the crowd with a track that reeks of Country. But with all of tonight's tracks there is a strong vein of Rockin' underlying it all. Second track 'Light It Up' has a heavy keyboard influence with dual harmonies although Kris lets the audience take lead vocals on the chorus before launching into a short but perfectly formed solo. Next up is a real rocking song - 'Rock and Roll'. The Zep track much loved by jam bands up and down the land is given the Kris Barras touch with some delightful slide guitar and a strong keyboard solo that went down a storm. The now swollen crowd was really getting into it. The slower and melodic 'Watching Over Me' is dedicated to Kris' departed father who heavily influenced his playing from a very early age. With the stage bathed in a glorious red light (much to the chagrin of the light sensitive JB) Kris plays some intricate and soulful Blues with tasteful delicacy that belies his pugnacious past. The more upbeat 'Wrong Place, Wrong Time' sees some dancing in the crowd - no handbags were noticed - with Kris guitar licks duelling with the keyboards. And closing the all too short 30 minute set is the rocking 'Hail Mary'. Opening with just a vocal harmony the song blossoms into full kick bottom Rock anthem allowing Kris to show his guitar hero skills with all the behind the head and teeth picking antics we know and love. This is a fight he wins by a knockout. As Kris disappears to a rapturous applause Pete finally arrives. "Did I miss anything?" he asks. Yes mate, you certainly did. We drown his sorrows at the bar accordingly. Don't worry though Pete, he's back in October with a headline tour of his own. 
After a very brief watering break, Mr. Anthony reappears to announce our second act. Coming from the other end of the experience spectrum, Walter Trout has been and done it all, Some of which he surely wished he hadn't. Walter has learned a lot from life and it shows in what and how he plays. Entering to a huge applause from a loving crowd, Walter takes his trademark yellow Strat through Mesa amps and performs a master class of taste and style that only comes with years of playing and a comfort in his ability. Although showy he is no show off, rather he exudes class yet is as humble as they come. Near death experience does that to a man. The four-piece open with an instrumental jam that segways nicely into the Rocking 'I Can Tell'. Again the keyboards are prominent but you can't take your eyes off of the Master. Next up is a track from his recent album 'Survivor Blues' which he uses to showcase tracks from long forgotten Blues tracks from yesteryear. His cover of Jimmy Dawkins 'Me, My Guitar and the Blues' is a delightfully sludgy Blues track that shows Walter has an excellent voice too. His guitar technique is enthralling although the flurry of notes are always secondary to the tone that they convey. 'Ride Till I'm Satisfied' is back to Rocking Blues again. He takes the time to chat with the audience, thanking them for being here ("I'm glad you weren't too busy protesting to come" - a nod to the ongoing UK visit of the US President) before properly ripping it up.
35 years ago Mr. T. was on the very stage he now graced with one John Mayall. A lot has happened in that time and Walter takes time out to share some of his life changing experiences. Including his illness that left him days away from death and that required him to relearn playing the guitar from the basics again. So the harmonica in his track 'Almost Gone' honouring that experience has a poignant cry to it. Almost ballad like it is an emotional song - a happy little ditty it ain't. Next track 'Sadie' is another gem from the old Blues era. Hound Dog Taylor was a Blues player from many years ago. Walter tells the story of how Hound Dog was born with six fingers on his fretting hand. Whilst you might imagine that this would be a boon to a guitar player, the sixth finger was in fact useless and therefore a hindrance. So Hound Dog did what any self respecting Blues player would do - he necked a bottle of bourbon and cut it off. Blues man healthcare as Walter called it. Walters version of the Blues shuffle sees the introduction of Andrew Elt to play rhythm guitar leaving Walter to showcase why five fingers are more than enough. As they launch into 'Ride Till I'm Satisfied', Mr Elt and the bass player take up a Quo like stance to properly Rock some Blues whilst Walter almost screams the lyrics. As do the audience. It's hot in here. Walter is loving it. "The best times in my life were when i was hot and sweaty" he declares.
Penultimate track is another golden oldie - 'Red Sun' - although Floyd Lee's original is only 16 years old. This mean street Blues number is currently getting some radio airplay and quite rightly so. It's a doozy. Closing number is Walters cover of the Rock and Rolling 'Bullfrog Blues', Rory Gallagher's version of 'Johnny Be Good'. Johnny be good but Walter be better as he properly Rocks the house. Rockin' the Blues? Hell yeah. Walter is touring the UK in October again too. As Walter and team leave to another thunderous ovation Pete and iI swap notes. Needless to say Pete is far more erudite than I. Pete's Prose: "Having recently recovered from liver disease, a couple of years back Walter was looking as thin as an E string but he's stacked quite a bit of weight back on. He's not quite as chubby as fellow ex-Bluesbreaker Buddy Whittington but fellow band members (keyboard player and drummer) are. But then they sit down on their chairs for the gig. But despite all this Walter's tone is as sweet as a triple chocolate cheesecake with strawberry jam."
Paul Anthony reappears once more to introduce the final act tonight - Jonny Lang. Jonny is a young clean cut looking fella who looks less like a traditional Blues player and more like a Pop pin up. Until he gets into the groove that is, when he contorts and twists into a screaming Blues monster. The opening track is a blistering 'Freight Train Blues' which showcases a form that will repeat itself over the next couple of tracks - fast and frantic Blues Rock from the twerking twitching tormentor of the Telecaster. And a Les Paul too. 'Signs' may have a slow ponderous beat but  the fret play is unrelenting as the four backing musicians struggle to make themselves noticed behind the animated Lang. A cover of Tinsley Ellis' 'A Quitter Never Wins' allows Lang to show of his Aretha like warble to good effect whilst ratcheting up the guitar abuse another notch. 'Snakes' continues the theme although more short and sweet.
Thankfully, the danger of spontaneous combustion is averted, when the tempo is dropped for the slow, almost quiet 'Bring Me Back Home'. Smoochie anyone? The nice slow Blues solo ultimately turns into another Blues shred but the pattern has been broken. 'Angel of Mercy' is a great Rocking Blues track with some excellent drumming. With a fun jam between guitars and keys the rhythm guitarist really gets to shine. Probably the best track of the set. And for a further change of scene, Lang takes to the stage alone for the acoustic ballad 'Breaking Me', a strong soulful song which builds into powerful ending. With the return of the backing line up we are treated to 'Lie To Me' which is full electric Rock with a great crunchy Rock tone. More great guitar and vocal work sees Lang work back up to his fever pitch best before closing track 'Still Raining' provides a more restrained groove with the keyboards pulling through to provide a melodic ending to a real Rocking Blues set. Pete's prose: "Jonny Lang's rhythm and keyboard player sporting backward facing baseball caps - looking like they have forgotten to get changed from their side gig as a Pearl Jam tribute. Bass player Jim (Anton) has an interesting CV too". 
As the band disappear into the night, Paul Anthony reappears to announce what is to be the finale, and highlight, of the evening. Reappearing with a cast of thousands in support are Kris, Walter and  Jonny to jam out together and end the tour with a bang. Five guitarists, two drummers two keyboard players, a bassist and a harmonics player all conspire to provide the sort of Blues jam that true fans can only dream about. Launching into "I Want To Know What Love Is', Jonny takes vocals whilst Kris takes lead. What follows is a master jam with each of the guitarists showing their own distinct flavour.   Kris has such taste in his choice of notes and a tone to die for, Walter has every chop a man could want and the gravitas and bearing to own the stage and Jonny the force of a small hurricane. Closing jam is the ever popular 'Going Down' with Andrew taking the stage again to display his impressive vocal talents - a young David Coverdale. With the whole ensemble giving it everything, the crowd were bopping until they were dropping to the very last drop. Awesome stuff and one for the mental scrap book.
As the three of us head home via the Northern Line (it's where the Scots hang their washing....) we compare notes and experiences. Pete bemoans his missing Kris' excellent short set, John opines on the lighting and the over exuberant security who felt it ok to throw the denizens of the photographic pit out into the rain soaked night between photo sessions. Not a great idea security team. The Rockerazzi have some expensive kit that doesn't mix too well with rain. And they are too far from the bar too. Me, I reflect on another great evening. And how we all have a different take on the same show, With the quality of music at this level, it behoves you to come and see the bands when they tour later this year and get your own take on things. Don't just take my word on it. Rock on.
Mother (pictures John Bull)

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