Gig review: ROYAL SOUTHERN BROTHERHOOD – Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, 25 June 2014

ROYAL SOUTHERN BROTHERHOOD – Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, 25 June 2014

Royal Southern Brotherhood reconfigure the classic rhythm and blues revue to their own ends, with great playing, 3 great lead vocalists, glistening harmonies and an essential harmonic relationship between strong songs that gives the evening its free flowing feel.

Their new album is suitably titled ‘Heartsoulblood’ and reflects a core DNA, shot through with a southern blend of rock, funk, Memphis soul and blues.

Despite well documented counter attractions, tonight is still a significant step up to a major London venue for the band, and their scintillating set doesn’t disappoint. They sparkle, rock and groove their way through a rapturously received show.

There’s a palpable vibe in the air which is perfectly captured near the end of the set by Devon  as he delivers the band’s manifesto:  ‘Thank you for supporting blues, classic music, roots music and music made with heart and soul and not robots, machines and bullshit. Thank you’.

ROYAL SOUTHERN BROTHERHOOD – Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, 25 June 2014

RSB make light of their supergroup status by assiduously working their way through an ever expanding song book, via occasional excursions into various solo projects.

Cyril Neville (The Neville Brothers) fronts the band on vocals and percussion, and he is flanked either side by Devon Allman on guitar and baritone vocals and Mike Zito on slide and lived-in vocals.  A succession of funky workouts, grooves and Latino rhythms are anchored by the seamless rhythm section of Yonrico Scott and Charlie Wooton.

The spotlight is constantly shared with alternating lead vocals,3 to 4 part harmonies and some resolute band interplay, born of non stop touring.  Like all good reviews, the evening ebbs and flows seamlessly, as each member brings a different (literal) and instrumental voice to bear on some wide ranging southern roots-rock gumbo.

ROYAL SOUTHERN BROTHERHOOD – Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, 25 June 2014

Cyril opens the night with the percussive and suitably titled ‘Fired Up’ and Yonrico leads the rhythm section into the muscular funk of ‘Moonlight Over The Mississippi’ which again features Cyril on vocals and a mighty Devon Allman solo.

Much like the later Philly soul feel of ‘She’s My Lady’, Charlie’s ‘Groove On’ features Devon on vocal and plays to the band rhythmic and harmonic strengths, and it’s voiced over insistent Latino beats and strong harmonies but with enough space to emphasize the guitars.

ROYAL SOUTHERN BROTHERHOOD – Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, 25 June 2014

Mike Zito contents himself on rhythm guitar before veering into a Doobie Brothers influenced ‘World Blues’ with Cyril doubling up Yonrico funky drive with added percussion.  The fans in the stalls rush to the front of the stage for Devon’s opening guitar figure on a solid blues ‘Back To You’, notable for it’s rich harmonies.

Devon provides the wah-wah opening on ‘Lets Get Dangerous’, a slinky, funky groove that becomes a vehicle for the rhythm section to stretch out, while the Zito/Neville penned ‘Ritual’  combines colourful, lascivious lyrics to match some growling riffs: ‘Bring out your whip, bring out the snake, bring out your love tonight’ . Mike Zito’s hoarse vocal and searing guitar solo draws a big reaction from the animated crowd.

The set builds by degrees with burning solos and judicious pacing and leads us to the booming climax on ‘Rock & Roll’, before guest Laurence Jones joins the band for a guitar jamboree on the first encore ‘One Way Out’. But the lasting impression of a memorable evening is provided by the gloriously ragged finale of ‘Gimme Shelter’ as Cyril slips into dervish mode on an altogether bigger rock & roll ritual, and the band and audience commune old school style.

Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Mark Hughes (MHP Studios)

Album review

ROYAL SOUTHERN BROTHERHOOD – Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, 25 June 2014

ROYAL SOUTHERN BROTHERHOOD – Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, 25 June 2014

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