Walter Trout’s most durable qualities are his intense guitar playing and his ever ready sense of humour. Both were in evidence at a packed Shepherd’s Bush Empire as he overcame his daunting health problems in front of his biggest London crowd in years.
You can see why he’s been dubbed the ‘John Coltrane of the blues’, as he launched into a series of deep toned, fleet fingered solo’s and drum tight ensemble playing, in a show that will stay in the memory for years to come.
He might have cut a frail figure, but he transcended his situation with moments of exhilarating playing and spine tingling jamming. Typically he made light of his problems with several quips, the most telling of which was when he drew on the crowd for some ‘spiritual healing’, as they roared him on.
His band was versatile too, as evidenced by bass player Rick Knapp swapping to lead guitar and tour manger Andrew Elt taking over bass playing duties as Walter sat one out on harmonica. And even though he clearly wasn’t performing at the height of his powers – with not a bar chord in sight – his singing filled the Empire with a mix of deep emotion, real presence and heartfelt phrasing.
Walter made the best of his disciplined and self imposed regime, starting a song while perched on his flight case, before slipping centre stage on to a chair to pick out a flowing sequence of notes with undulating volume swells, on a glorious cover of Luther Allison’s ‘Bad Love’. Drummer Michael Leasure added the perfect tempo push to amplify the tension of the song, which brought Walter back to his feet to pull his axe closer to his body and wring every last possibility from an emotive tribute to his lost friend.
He got a great reception for that magical moment, but looked momentarily spent. But the man is a trooper and seemed reignited by the crowd, as he brought unbelievable poignancy to the line: ‘If pain was money, you know I’d be such a rich man’, from Allison’s ‘Pain In The Streets’. Sammy Avila added nuanced Hammond fills as Walter let his guitar do his talking for him.
‘Gone Too Long’ proved to be an imperious funky groove and allowed him to soar at his leisure and special guest Laurence Jones was joined by fellow guitarist Stephen Dale Petit for some fun on an improvised ‘Dust My Broom’.
And if his fellow band members’ instrument swapping was as much due to Walter’s need for a rest as to their sense of fun, the intensity levels never let up, with Rick Knapp demonstrating his own impressive guitar skills on his ‘Toys Are Us’ axe.
The set inexorably moved towards its climactic finish on the back of a jammed out instrumental version of ‘Serve’s Me Right To Suffer’ on which Walter and bass player Rick Knapp feverishly played double lines, Cream style, and drummer Michael Leasure added a mighty drum solo.
The band duly received a thunderous ovation leaving Walter to look up to the circle and defiantly shout out ‘I ain’t done yet’. On the evidence of this show he certainly isn’t.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Prakash Prak
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