Sonny Landreth + Soul Immigrants
Sunday 15th April
229 The Venue, London
Following on from the release of his latest double album 'Recorded Live in Lafayette' - his first live album in over 12 years - and the Grammy nominee’s back-to-back Blues Music Awards for Best Guitarist and Best Blues Album for 'Bound by the Blues' - virtuoso slide guitarist and bandleader Sonny Landreth played a rare concert at London's 229 The Venue in Great Portland Street on Sunday night. Last June, after a dozen acclaimed albums, the King of Slydeco decided the time was right for a career-spanning double-live album on Provogue, a 16-song opus that included the most extensive set ever recorded by Landreth, as the singer and songwriter’s work stretched and twisted across 93 minutes of full-band acoustic and electric bottleneck lightning. Rescheduled from last September, and with great support from Soul Immigrants, Landreth has collaborated with the very top names in guitar over the years: Eric Clapton, Mark Knopfler, Eric Johnson, Derek Trucks - the list goes on. The noted slideman cut his musical teeth in The Red Hot Louisiana Band of Zydeco King Clifton Chenier, and Landreth has since recorded and toured with artists ranging from John Mayall to John Hiatt.
Opening for a legend is always going to be a hard ask. So step forward Soul Immigrants, a three-piece band from just down the road in Brixton. Well you well and truly couldn't fault vocalist, left-handed lead guitarist and Johnny Depp lookalike Emrys Baird for his energy and charisma as he pranced around the stage, his fedora and shades as cool as their brand of funky Blues. With the equally dapper Al Gibson on bass/keyboards and Davide Bouet on drums, their short six track set got the 229 grooving, even managing to concoct a singalong to 'There Is No Way Out' from their current EP, plus a cover of Stephen Stills 'Love The One You're With', a snippet of The Beatles 'Get Back' but unfortunately no 'Cut The Cake'. Great fun - so follow that Sonny!
"How are you folks doing?" Sonny politely enquired as his three-piece band were warmly welcomed on to the 229 stage by a packed and expectant crowd. Indeed, anyone expecting Slydeco unplugged were totally blown away with the hard rockin' riff of opening instrumental 'Z Rider' - Landreth immediately caressing his guitar in a way which proceeded to mesmerise us all for the rest of his set. "Well that was fun" added Landreth, before they tore into the classic 'Walking The Blues', not only an opportunity for Robert Johnson to meet ZZ Top, but also for a cool Blues vocal by Sonny plus some great stick work from Landreth's flat capped drummer. Sonny's amazing guitar solo on the slow Blues of another classic - Elmore James' 'It Hurts Me Too' - had everyone scratching their heads on how on earth did bass guitarist Dave Ramsden manage to keep up with that, before, in contrast, Landreth then promised to "Whip us up into a frenzy" with 'Milky Way Home' - another rockin' instrumental that smacked of Satriani.
There was no let up in the slide onslaught with the Blues of 'Cherry Ball' before Landreth toasted the crowd by raising his mug and taking a sip - was it moonshine the crowd muttered? - before dedicating the slower Blues instrumental of 'Firebird' as a tribute to his old mucker Jonny Winter. The aptly named 'Blues Attack' with stand-out guitar and vocals from Sonny was followed by 'World Away' - Landreth toasting and raising his mug once more as well as apologising in advance for its depressing content - well it is the Blues Sonny! He needn't have apologised, his jaw-dropping technique where he frets notes and plays chords and chord fragments by fretting behind the slide while he plays, was no more evident on this mesmerising nugget, with a great vocal from Landreth thrown in for good measure.
It was then time for "Blues of the happy department" as Sonny described it - and indeed one of Landreth's favourite songs, the evergreen 'Key To The Highway', which received the unplugged treatment on 'Recorded Live In Lafayette', but tonight was duly dispatched electronically by the King of Slydeco, with another great vocal and with his slide as usual on his little finger, so that his other fingers had more room to fret behind the slide. "You'll doing alright?" asked Sonny as he not only trotted out the standard sales pitch about not wanting to carry all his CD's back though airport security, but also thanked his Mascot Label Group for their support before his big opening and equally big vocal on 'All About You'.
Landreth's 30th birthday dedication to fan Adam before 'Hell At Home' (another track that got the unplugged treatment on 'Recorded Live in Lafayette'), emphasised the fact that the 229 was not completely full of silver sliders tonight, as Sonny's strong Zydeco influences came to the fore, proving there was indeed still rythym down by the bayou. "Now we've got that one out of our system - here's one for all the ladies in the house!" enticed Landreth. Sonny's right-hand technique, which involves tapping, slapping, and picking strings, using all of the fingers on his right hand was never more evident than on these two final instrumentals in his set, namely 'Brave New Girl' which morphed into 'Native Stepson'. Wearing a special thumb pick/flat pick hybrid on his thumb so that he can bear down on a pick while simultaneously using his finger-style technique for slide, these two tracks rocked, the former reminiscent of Akkerman's early days and the later of Lizzy. The inevitable encore saw us "going way on down the swamp" with 'Bayou Teche' - a marvellous nine minute microcosm of what had gone before. Eric Clapton once said that Landreth was one of the most advanced guitarists in the world and one of the most under-appreciated. Well we were priveleged to witness the Master of Slydeco tonight, and boy was he appreciated. Long Live The King!
AJ (photos courtesy of Tim Russell)