Perhaps only Walter Trout can transform the recollection of his own abject desperation and ill health into resonant blues-rock. Aside from completing his lengthy journey back to his rightful place in front of his adoring European fans – in this case London – he communicates his heartfelt songs through a mix of emotionally graphic lyrics, incendiary guitar playing and wry humour that thumbs its nose at his own darkest moments.
Where too many blues rockers fail to cross the significant divide between clubs and bigger venues, Trout has always had the ability to hold an audience. And tonight he rides rough shot over the sheer weight of expectation to strike a significant chord with everybody in the big crowd.
He veers from the reflective and dark to the deeply ironic and his incendiary guitar playing is matched all the way by his effervescent bass player Johnny Griparic, on a set that veers from real intensity to sheer exhilaration.
Known for not using a set list, you suspect that for this tour Walter may just have paused for thought in approaching a batch of material that he jokes is the depressing part of the show.
Nothing could have been further from the truth, for the while the songs chart his passing despair and eventual fight back, he balances the set in such a way that he comes out his corner like a returning fighter – complete with a poignant intro from rock DJ, Nicky Horne – to tear into a lengthy opening number full of his trademark layered solos which rise eloquently above Sammy Avilla’s sweeping Hammond.
His exuberance almost leads him to oversing on Luther Allison’s ‘I’m Back’ . The song is infused with such emotional weight that is almost an exercise in self affirmation. And having restated his guitar playing credentials and familiar big vocal phrasing, he digs deep for his self penned ‘Say Goodbye To The Blues’.
Dedicated to B.B.King – who Walter tells us he first met as a teenager - it’s a song that over the years has been used as backdrop to the passing of several of his contemporaries, but tonight it is played with such conviction and depth that it broaches an altogether different emotional universality that only the blues can deliver.
The self explanatory ‘Almost Gone’ sets the template for a surprisingly rocking evening, because while the lyrics of his new ‘Battle Scars’ album chart his road to recovery, Trout’s survivalist lyrics are voiced over some of the most crucial riffs and tightest rhythms he’s ever written.
Powerhouse drummer Michael Leasure and ‘in the pocket’ bass man Griparic lock into a series of perfectly weighted grooves and shuffles that almost by design invite Walter to deliver a series of expansive solos, topped by a wide array of deep tones and nuanced dynamics.
‘Omaha’s’ lyrical defiance is predicated on Leasure’s portentous drum pattern, as Walter explores several potent chords before his solo gloriously reaches for another level of emotional intensity.
‘Playin’ Hideway’ provides the best riff of the evening and Walter taps into the emotional connection with his crowd as they provide the ‘whooooooooo’ sing-along backing vocals.
‘Fly Away’ is another notable highlight, with an Eastern sounding psychedelic tone and an uplifting hook with bv’s from drummer Leasure.
Tonight’s sense of celebration is further underscored by the guest appearance of Walter’s son Jon Trout, who turns out to be a disciplined rhythm guitarist as well as an accomplished shredder.
There’s also an ad-hoc appearance by young Brit blues-rock guitarist Danny Bryant, who Walter mentored some 20 years ago, and there’s even room for new boy bassist Griparic to star on a rough hewn jam of the old Trout set closer, John Lee Hooker’s ‘It Serves Me Right To Suffer’.
Walter barely gets half way through saying goodnight before the crowd is on its feet giving him a deserved ovation. He duly encores with a moving ‘Amazing Grace’ and Don Nix’s ‘Going Down’, on which guitar tech Andrew Elt reminds us of his startling vocal range. Game set and match to Walter Trout, the greatest comeback kid of them all!
Earlier alt-Nashville power trio Simo remind us of the impact of early 70′s rock-blues with some bombastic riff-led rocking. Guitarist and frontman J.D. adds a caustic growl and some ripping slide as the trio work towards the climactic frenzy of ‘With A Little Help From My Friends’. Their time will surely come.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Mark Hughes (MHP Studios)
Pete Feenstra presents his Rock & Blues Show on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio every Tuesday at 19:00 GMT, and “The Pete Feenstra Feature” on Sundays at 19:00
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