The Steepwater Band + Rob Tognoni Band

Tuesday 28th June 2022

The 100 Club, London

Having been pointed in the direction of The Steepwater Band from Chicago by a gig buddy in 2016 and subsequently bought as much of their back catalogue as I could, I was excited about the prospect of hearing them live in London in June 2020. Then Covid happened. Then the same thing happened again in June 2021. So it was something of a relief to find them actually here at long last as part of Solid Entertainments’ Tuesday Blues nights.

Sadly, those nights have yet to fully recover post-lockdown; perhaps they attracted a more mature audience who are more cautious about their collective health and well-being. The quality of the bands and the hard work of the promoter certainly deserve a larger audience and we must all hope that things pick up in the months to come.

Before the headliners took to the stage we received 40 minutes of Blues and boogie from the trio of Australian guitarist Rob Tognoni (“The Tasmanian Devil”). He’s been on the European circuit for over 25 years and released a string of albums on respected labels like Provogue (Holland), DixieFrog and Blues Boulevard (both France), all of which are now getting hard to find. Many of those early songs remain in his setlist, however.

After the opener ‘Rock ‘n Roll Business Man’ (from ‘Rock And Roll Live’, 2010) Rob took us all the way back to ‘Stones And Colours’ (1995) for ‘Dirty Occupation’ and ‘Bad Girl’ (the latter of which also popped up on ‘Live At The Twilight’, 1999).

‘Drink Jack Boogie’ (from ‘Monkeygrinder’, 2001) and ‘Guitar Boogie Refried’ (from ‘The Lost Album’, 2014) might have been better separated, in order to provide a bit of light and shade in the sound, but those present seemed to enjoy RT’s showmanship, which included briefly playing the guitar with his teeth!

‘Head Above Water’ and a cover of ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ (both from ‘Headstrong’, 1997) featured the leader’s longest solos, as well as spots for bassist Gaz Rackham and drummer Paul Hellier. In a nod to the venue’s Punk credentials, the set concluded with a fun rip through ‘Pretty Vacant’, which had several of the front row nostalgically singing along. All good clean fun and no spitting!

When the headliners were due here in 2020 they had their ‘Turn Of The Wheel’ album to promote; by the time they finally arrived they also had the brand new ‘Re-Turn Of The Wheel’! It was little surprise, therefore, that much of the setlist was drawn from these two albums.

Indeed the first three songs were all drawn from the 2020 release, with vocalist Jeff Massey taking the first of many fine slide guitar solos on the title track. He shared the solo space on ‘Big Pictures’ with fellow guitarist Eric Saylors, who has been on board for a decade now, although the band was founded as long ago as 1998.

Massey’s slide was back to the fore during a fine version of ‘Tell The Truth’ (hard to believe that this Derek & The Dominoes classic is already over fifty years old!), before ‘Found’ became the first song played from the band’s latest release.

The rhythm section got some solo space during a pair of favourites which appeared first on ‘Clava’ (2011), then again on ‘Live & Humble’ (2013); ‘High And Humble’ featured drummer Joe Winters, while ‘Come On Down’ allowed the newest member, bassist Joe Bishop (who replaced Tod Bowers three years ago), to stretch out. More fine slide playing by Massey on both songs, it almost goes with saying.

He changed guitars before a trio of songs from the new album; ‘Salvation In Time’ and ‘Broken Spirit Blues’ sandwiched a fine ‘Shift’, which allowed both guitarists to shine. By the time we reached ‘Key To The Highway’, which the band recorded back in 2007 on a mini-album of covers entitled ‘Songs From The 8th Day’, it was close to curfew, but most of us would have happily stayed for another hour.

Fortunately the band members were happy that the small audience was a responsive one, so hopefully they’ll be back before too long. Trust me, you need to be there to welcome them.

Setlists:

RT – Rock ‘n Roll Business Man; Dirty Occupation; Bad Girl; Drink Jack
Boogie; Guitar Boogie Refried; Head Above Water; Baby Please Don’t
Go; Pretty Vacant.

TSB – Please The Believer; Turn Of The Wheel; Big Pictures; Tell The Truth;
Found; High And Humble; Come On Down; Salvation In Time; Shift;
Broken Spirit Blues; Key To The Highway.

Gary Smith