Gig review: A Week in Rock on the Riviera‏ – SLASH, ZZ TOP (5-9 July 2015)

Now, I know most of you are thinking that life on the French Riviera doesn’t suck, and in some ways, you’d be right. But if you’re a rock and blues junkie, this place is a cultural wasteland where some apocalyptic event obliterated volume, devil’s horns, tattoos and denim, a musical desert infested with jazz and world music – a place where guitarists play three thousand chords to three people instead of three chords to three thousand people, a place where people actually hold Eurovision Song Contest parties, a place where obscenely-wealthy Sting-lovers have the money to buy anything they want but can’t buy class. Don’t get me started!

So, imagine my pulse rate when Slash, ZZ Top, Vintage Trouble, Lenny Kravitz and Beth Hart rolled into town over a period of just five days last week !! I felt sure I’d dreamt it but the tinnitus in my ears now attests to the fact that it actually happened.

First up, opening act for Slash was Raveneye – a beautifully sloppy three piece who didn’t really mean much to me until lead singer and guitarist announced himself as Oli Brown.

I first saw this kid as a fresh-faced, never-been-kissed 16-year old blues boy in the free tent at High Voltage in 2010 and, at the time, I thought, this lad’s got chops up the wazoo. He has now grown his hair, hasn’t shaved or showered for months and has matured very impressively. Raveneye are very secure in what they’re doing – perched nicely between Wolfmother and the dirtier end of George Thorogood, check them out – lumpy, thumpy and riffs nastier than a Hamburg hooker. Big tophats off to Slash for giving them the chance.

No sense in getting into “superlative diarrhea” when it comes to a Slash – the guy is simply a crowd-pleaser and delivered a flawless set of GnR hits and the best of his solo albums. His three recent albums have hurtled him from simply being “the guitarist from Guns and Roses” to “legendary” status.

Not only does Slash surround himself with hi-octane musicians, not least Myles Kennedy whose vocal and physical presence is compelling and respectful of whose band he is in, but he can write a darn good tune. A visit to your local guitar shop proves that anyone can shred these days…the trick to longevity is coming up with catchy melodies and big choruses and Slash does that consistently and in spades. One day, all Sunday nights will be this good.

On then to the Monaco Sporting Club for ZZ Top – about as far away from a Texas whorehouse as you can imagine. Splendid venue one has to say but the look of the crowd must leave bands gritting their teeth and thinking of the fee. There is a dress code you see and it’s the funniest thing seeing your average Joe Dirt ZZ Top fan squeezed very uncomfortably into that new Ralph Lauren polo shirt he got from Auntie Margaret for Christmas two years ago.

Nice job again on the choice of support as County Donegal boogie-rockers Johnnie Gallagher and the Boxtie Band romped through an impressive stack of twelve-bar soaked beauties. Thoroughly entertaining, full of confidence and including a rather tasty rendition of House of the Rising Son.

ZZ Top are about as slick as a used car salesman by now and it’s all so effortless and extremely effective. Not a single guitar effects pedal in sight and drummer Frank Beard deep in his own world which only a Brittany Spears cheek mike and the occasional gasper seem to penetrate.

Dusty Hill and the Reverend Billy Gibbons are like schoolboys in their sixties, exchanging goofy handshakes, playing the furry guitars and as tight as a camel’s arse in a sandstorm. Drawing mostly from their crusty classics, their timing is exquisite – dropping in a huge hit every third or fourth song to lift the tempo just as the crowd pauses to draw breath.

Interestingly, the set featured my two favourites from recent years’ output in ‘Fly High’ and ‘Chartreuse’.  ZZ Top don’t deviate much from their brand of snakeskin blues but the formula is second only to that of breast milk and that’s worked just fine for years.

Walking out with ‘Tush’ ringing in our ears, we exited into the exclusive Monaco night air, where pigeons fly upside down so no-one gets shit on and people actually get out of the bath to take a pee, just as the Harley Davidson contingent fired up their rockets in a deafening crescendo – a final hoorah to the elite residents of Monaco……”ZZ Top has left the building”.

Back to the same swanky venue the next night for Lenny Kravitz supported by easily the hottest new American band on the scene these days in Los Angeles’ Vintage Trouble. Scarier crowd tonight, all Russian mobsters and refurbished women, like a human freak show and definitely a “being there to be seen” crowd.

Nevertheless, Vintage Trouble ripped the place up with their unique brand of soul rock. You must, must MUST check these guys out. Incredible energy and urgency, varying between skintight grooves (‘Blues Hand Me Down’), wonderfully layered soulful balladry (‘Another Man’s Word’) and honest, heart-of-the-matter rockers (‘Angel City’, ‘California’),

Vintage Trouble is led by the incredible vocal drive of Ty Taylor. Still crowd-surfing and with a vocal range which would make even Freddie look up from the grave, Taylor oozes charisma and personality and yet always gives the impression he’s just singing to you. Their new album “1, Hopeful Road” is released on 14th August and currently supporting AC/DC on their ‘Rock or Bust’ world tour, Vintage Trouble are hitting their stride and will surely be in the ascendancy for years to come.

Follow that, Lenny! I was giving him a second chance having seen him 6 months ago and not being that impressed with a show beset by technical glitches and performed by a guy who seemed distant and even pretentious. Baffling that an artist with a belter of a recent album (Strut) barely touches the stuff and jams out three very forgettable songs for in excess of 40 minutes altogether.

Now, when bands like The Black Crowes extend songs, there’s a purpose to it – it’s fun, and interesting, it builds and crashes several times and carries the crowd on its shoulders. Kravitz has a great band of musicians but the jam is strangely languid and just becomes tiresome – as if they’re killing time.

Lenny is once more aloof, barely addressing the crowd during an entire hour and three quarters set…he’s just a mega-superstar now and unfortunately, pretentiousness has lent him an untouchable aura which is just too bad. The show is book-ended by some of his classics like ‘American Woman’ and ‘Fly Away’ but too much of the show is gratuitous “look-at-me” type nonsense. Maybe that’s what the Russian mafia told him to do but Lenny, get your guitar and get back to working for the people.

A mellow end to the week in rock on the Riviera saw Beth Hart and her band wow an intimate gathering in the idyllic town square in Vence. If Joe Cocker and Janis Joplin had a baby, you’d have Beth and she delivers like Fed Ex. Hart has had many life experiences which she interprets through her music with extreme emotion and passion but remains humble in a girl-next-door kind of way and utterly brilliant.  Lenny…take note !

So, they all came, they all rocked and they all conquered and left us sweaty and satisfied…then the busses rolled out of town, leaving us to contemplate musical masturbation, as a friend of mine describes jazz…where only the guy doing it is getting anything out of it.

Review by Mark “Mad Dog” Shaw

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