Live Music sees The O2 Forum Rockin’ The Blues

Mascot Label Group presents Kris Barras Band, Walter Trout and Jonny Lang

If you have a record label with a bunch of the best blues-rock artists around on the books it makes perfect sense to organise some of the gang to head out on the road together and make merry, so thanks Provogue / Mascot Label Group for assembling this crew of three solid citizen guitar heavyweights for enthusiasts to drool over in the one location, on this occasion the generous space of the O2 Forum in Kentish Town. On-stage information was a little off so I had to hustle through the audience into the pit down the front just as opening act Kris Barras hit the signature riff to his version of Zep’s “Rock’n’Roll”, which, like everything this guy touches at the moment, came over pretty darn well.  It takes a lot of confidence to take on one such a classic song and give it a blues-rock treatment.  Confidence is not in short supply in the Barras camp and of course, he and his band delivered the goods; strutting the stage in trademark black training top (a vest by any other name) he is a photographer’s dream, throwing all the shapes and holding them long enough for everyone to get their fill.  He is really, really good, playing beautifully fluid solos and singing in a voice that doesn’t grate, strong but melodic.  While he can rock out he also is convincing on slower blues like the self-penned “Waiting On Me” which followed,  from his last album, “The Divine & Dirty”, which is a typically strong tune, with a memorable chorus and some nice changes for him to solo the heck over, before ending with some moody single notes.   He picked up the tempo with “Wrong Place, Wrong Time” a rollicking, upbeat number, with a descending guitar, run on the turnarounds and some blistering guitar work, the band in full flow.  His short but satisfying set finished with familiar closer “Hail Mary” with its acapella opening that leads onto a killer riff and which has a full-on repeated chorus that is a guaranteed crowd pleaser with its various catchy hooks.

There were probably many in the large crowd that viewed the next act as the headline; Walter Trout has been around for a long time and it shows in the mature excellence of his playing.  Everyone has their own preferences when it comes to guitar playing but for me, there are few players that can match the flowing lines that run from his Stratocaster with such assurance.  Extended opening number “Me, My Guitar & The Blues” (also the opener on most recent LP “Survivor Blues”) demonstrating the full range of his soloing skills.  He can also definitely carry a tune.  The majority of numbers were prefaced with stories, the one that got the biggest cheer, apart from when Walter gave thanks to the anonymous donor that enabled his life-saving liver transplant operation, was his telling how he sought out down on his luck bluesman Floyd Lee to let him know that due to his covering of his song “Red Sun” he would be getting some royalties.  This was an excellent set, the whole band cooking on a sizzling level, bass player Johnny Griparic with his miniature Mohican catching the eye most as ground down into the beat on the right side of the stage.  It is remarkable that the likeable guitarist was on such good form is given that not so long ago he had to learn how to talk again, before even getting to grips with guitar, as a result of his serious illness.  A really good set.

The final act was the still youthful Jonny Lang who mixed it up with his blend of impassioned blues and funky, soulful grooves.  Opening number “Signs” from his most recent album of the same name contained all the ingredients, searing runs ripped from his Telecaster and a commanding vocal delivery that held nothing back, raw and emotive, rising almost to a falsetto on the chorus, his face and body shaking with the power of his committed performance.  Live favourite “A Quitter Never Wins” a Tinsley Ellis cover, showed him playing in a more direct blues style on what is an excellent song, and a great choice of cover.  On “Snakes” the band hit a fat groove on this bustling number with its infectious chorus; another superb song, completely different in feel to what we’d heard earlier in the evening.  For “Bring Me Back Home” the spotlight was firmly on the singer as the band ambled off and he stood front and middle of the stage, switching his tele’ for an acoustic and gave a riveting performance that showed of his vocal prowess and held the majority of the audience captivated and in awe of the power of his larynx.  The energy he gave to the whole performance was underlined when reviewing photos of his set and marvelling at the contortions in his face, almost as if was about to morph into another face altogether like a character in a sci-fi movie. 

His demeanour was much more relaxed when after finishing his set he came back on for the encore, accompanied by Messrs Trout and Barras and various other band members for a couple of numbers featuring extended soloing from the three, the last of which, the much played “Going Down”, featured Walter Trout’s tour manager Andrew Elt on vocals (an impressive performance).  This was the end of tour show and it was a very good- natured, collegiate affair that will last long in the memory for many in the crowd.  A great evening of fabulous music, each set worth the price of admission alone. 

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