The Answer + Oli Brown & The Dead Collective
Monday 20th March 2023
The 100 Club, London
Following the band's comeback performance as special guests at Planet Rockstock last December, plus the release, very aptly, last Friday on St. Patrick's Day of 'Sundowners', their first album in seven years, Northern Ireland Rock royalty. The Answer, stopped off at London's iconic 100 Club on Monday, on a sold out fourth leg of their six-date UK Sundowners tour, with the added bonus of Oli Brown & The Dead Collective as support.
Indeed, exactly a week ago we had seen Oli's trio headlining in their own right at Gravesend's Leo's Red Lion, comprising of ex-RavenEye guitarist/vocalist Brown, former King King drummer Wayne Proctor plus Wayward Sons and Black Star Riders guitarist Sam Wood, who we had also seen performing with at Shepherd's Bush Empire at the end of February. Following the release of their debut EP, 'Prelude', at the end of January, a collection of four deep, gritty, powerful and soul searching songs, the award winning Blues songwriter Brown had teamed up to record with the highly regarded and also award winning producer Proctor, also enlisting the talents of Alex Phillips on bass and Andrew Banfield on synth.
An as expected shorter thirty minute set compared to Leo's, exploded with the pounding guitar and drums of Brown and Proctor respectively on opener, and previous Brown music incarnation, 'Father', before 'Everything You Want', featured not only a great vocal from Oli, but also, it seemed, one of the dead collective on that phantom bass line! It was then three in a row from the new EP, as they aired the brooding and bruising 'Sinking Ship, followed by the powerful 'Haunted', the stand out for mine, featuring another fabulous solo from Brown, "How awesome is this?" complimented my partner in crime next to me.
Another raucous stomper, 'Heard It All Before', with Wayne centre stage plus Sam stage left of that iconic pillar, gave away to the slower 'Your Love', that erupted with a passion, to thankfully drown out the inane chatter at the back of the club, before the guys sadly closed out with the apt 'Home Sweet Home', typically, just as 100 Club temperatures were well and truly rising. In keeping with both Gravesend and the new EP, and with a deep reverence for Rock, the trio were raw and refined with Oli’s soaring vocals and emotive lyrics perfectly complementing the band's dynamic instrumentals, creating an immersive and unforgettable sonic experience.
After supporting the mighty AC/DC at Wembley Stadium on their Black Ice Tour way back in 2009, their sixth album, 'Solas' (2016), saw The Answer embarking on an ambitious change of direction, a complete departure from their previous work, giving the impression that their tried and trusted straight Blues-Rock based approach had run its course, with its darker, more Proggy folky feel, that turned out eventually to be a crossroads for the quartet.
Indeed, seven years later, on a very special run of limited capacity shows, not only to showcase their new seventh studio album, but also their classic catalogue tracks, the long-awaited return of the Northern Irish rockers saw them step on to the stage one by one to rapturous applause, accompanied by Dylan's 'Blowin' In The Wind', as fedora hatted vocalist Cormac Neeson yelled "London!", before grabbing his mic stand, and rocking back and forth on their storming opener, 'Keep Believin', taken from 2006's pub grown classic Rock album, 'Rise'. "London town are you with us?" Neeson enquired, holding his tambourine aloft, as they launched into their powder-keg anthem, 'Blood Brother', their first studio single for almost seven years, with the already ecstatic crowd lapping up Paul Mahon's guitar solo and singing along to the riff.
"You're more beautiful than we remember" gushed Cormac, all Brucie like, before introducing bass guitarist Micky Waters on the intro to the awesome 'Tonight', as the audience again sang along again to this classic from 2009's 'Everyday Demons'. Joking that it was a good job that we were holding plastic glasses after winding us up about the weekend's rugby, and then deservedly celebrating that their new album was not only numero uno in the Amazon Hard Rock chart, but that Metallica were #2, Cormac whipped out his harmonica for another tune from said album, 'Oh Cherry', before returning to their classic, 'Under The Sky', that brought back fond memories when I first saw the guys at Victoria Park's much missed High Voltage Festival back in 2010.
Another back catalogue classic, 'Nowhere Freeway', saw hands waving in the air, although full credit to Cormac for being philosophical about the scumbags who recently stole their gear/van in Birmingham pre-tour, as he introduced 'Sundowners', with the mood immediately lifting again on this title track, thanks to its driving Zep vibe, showcasing Mahon's slide guitar, the engine room rhythm of Waters and drummer James Heatley, plus of course perpetual motion Neeson's harmonica, as he whirled around the stage.
Heatley's drum intro on the more funky, 'All Together', saw more hand clapping, before Cormac dropped the bombshell, as he readied his harmonica for 'California Rust', that the band were now on Tik Tok! In fact, don't think TT existed the last time we saw Paul Mahon’s guitar wizardry on classics like the aptly named ‘Spectacular’ and ‘Come Follow Me’, when they co-headlined with Dead Daisies at Camden's Electric Ballroom in November 2016. Neeson amusingly introduced 'Always Alright', reminiscing about their first ever gig at the 100 Club in the 1990's where they all got pissed down the road at the much-missed and legendary The Crobar, as they duly slowed things down a bit with a neat Waters bass solo, before taking things up a level and going all Gospel!
They wrapped things up with the driving, grungy and raw sound of 'Want You To Love Me', that saw the perfect frontman's harmonica complement Mahon's fuzzy guitar, before the quintet returned for a two-song encore (to be honest, they actually didn't manage to leave the stage), the first of which was preceded by an Irish drinking song from Cormac, before this thumping foot stomper, put the Rock back into Roll, think Free/Bad Company, as Neeson's tambourine was accompanied by yet more clapping hands and another singalong.
"Do you wanna sing some Belfast Blues with me?" enquired Cormac. Cue Paul's slide guitar on 'Preachin', where Neeson was literally preaching to the converted, as he jumped off of the stage and walked among his flock. "God have mercy" Cormac proclaimed, as his congregation knelt at his bequest, before we all waved our hands, Gospel like, in the air! Amazing what you will do after five pints of Amstel. "Thank you London", Neeson exclaimed. Indeed, it’s always good to meet your heroes, but even better when they join you in the audience!
Without a 'Solas' track in sight, tonight was a statement of intent by County Down's finest, returning to their much-missed roots of Blues-influenced Classic Rock, with an energetic, 'craicing' live set that was a delightful mixture of classic Answer singalong songs, complemented by some just as equally strong fresh material from the just released 'Sundowners'. With the final night of their UK tour taking place at Belfast's Limelight tonight, continuing with more dates in mainland Europe, the good news is that the guys are also playing Ebbw Vale's Steelhouse Festival at the end of July. Do not miss them.