This hour-long interview special was first broadcast on Sunday 10 July on Get Ready to ROCK! Radio in the Pete Feenstra Feature, with tracks from the new album.
Provogue [Release date 17.05.16]
There’s nothing quite like experiencing Walter Trout live, as he and his band feed off the energy that his audience gives him in spades.
‘ALIVE In Amsterdam’ is all about the mutual energy levels shared by Trout and his long standing fan base in Holland, on a special occasion that acts as a mutual cathartic release.
Having overcome his battle with liver disease to tour and record again, as well as winning the rock/blues album and song of the year categories at the Blues Music Awards in Memphis, Walter is truly reborn. Above all he’s penned the best songs of his career, some of which are superbly showcased here.
You could argue Trout’s best recordings were always done live, from his career breaking ‘No More Fish Jokes’ through to his double ‘Live Trout’ album, on which his performance levels reached new heights and garnered him a new legion of fans.
Then there was the daring ‘Relentless’, ostensibly an album of new material, but all recorded live and without a safety net at Amsterdam’s Paradiso.
‘ALIVE in Amsterdam’ takes things a step further. It’s a live album with a difference. Put simply, it’s a restatement of his core values, the product of unfinished business and above all, a reminder that Walter Trout still has much to offer.
Sure there’s his signature intensity, spontaneous humour and ever present ripping band interplay, all fired by an extra sense of purpose and the big occasion, but he’s also sharing his raison d’etre through unflinching lyrics.
All this makes for a curious but essential duality. On the one hand there’s a celebratory feel to the night, but other than a handful of Trout staples and Luther Allison’s thematic ‘I’m Back’, its Trout’s lyrical journey back to good health and his rightful place on stage that infuses much of the material with extra bite.
On disc one’s ‘Haunted By The Night’, he eschews any preamble and overlays Michael Leasure’s brooding percussive pattern with a deep meditative guitar tone and a mid-number rap that mirrors the sombre narrative.
He returns to his early career penchant for harmony drenched ballads on the plaintive ‘Please Take Me Home’, but for all the characteristic Trout moments, this album has an undeniable edge, meaning that he doesn’t have to search very hard for the requisite levels of intensity to match the opening ovation from his Dutch fans.
Typically Trout make’s light of the moment, saying that since he’s speechless, he will play his guitar, which of course he does with the kind of unfettered abandon that has made him a blues/rock guitar hero.
He opens with a double salvo of rocking blues, before leaning into the anthemic ‘Say Goodbye To The Blues’ – his biggest Dutch hit – which tonight he dedicates to B.B. King.
In anyone else hands this could be a sticky moment, when sentimentality could potentially swamp the song’s heartfelt message, but Walter’s integrity is never in question as he re-invests the song with real emotion and a magnificent vocal.
He’s bolstered by his band’s intuitive interplay as he delivers his timeless message to all fallen guitar greats: “Play you guitar right through the darkest night”. At the emotional peak of the song he adds his own tremulous notes with a tension breaking solo resolution.
It’s the material from his ‘Battle Scars’ album that lifts this set above all his previous work. The playing on ‘Almost Gone’ evokes the darkest moments of his fight for life, while ‘Omaha’ charts his time in hospital when he might have given up.
His effective use of chord changes, pregnant pauses and emotive phrasing is underpinned by Michael Leasure’s bass drum pattern, as the band rises to another level.
It’s a brave song from a brave man, who presides over the celebration of his own return with material from the depths of his soul. His mid-number guitar solo speaks to us from another place over a locked-in rhythm section.
The riff driven and funky undertow of ‘Tomorrow Seems So Far Away’ is a notable highlight and by the time of ‘Playin’ Hideaway’ the band is in overdrive, boosted by the audience’s mighty call and response section which Trout actually counts in.
He features his son Jon Trout on a jammed out ‘Rock Me Baby’ which for all its spark and sense of fun is a waste of a song for a guy with a back catalogue of over 20 albums.
He redresses the balance with his delicate instrumental ‘Marie’s Mood’. The ode to his wife gains immediate recognition from the crowd, before we’re into the time honoured Trout finale of Hooker’s ‘Serve Me Right To Suffer’ and his self penned rock ballad ‘The Love That We Once Knew’.
The latter was originally recorded some 36 years ago in Denmark and was subsequently cut at the 1991 Moulin Blues Festival in Holland and then appeared on the ’92 ’No More Fish Jokes’ CD, but tonight it reaches new heights on the booming, communally sung chorus.
If too many live albums are a poor excuse for a creative drought then ‘Alive In Amsterdam’ is that rare thing, a true document of a memorable night.
It also marks a stellar return for Walter Trout with something new, something old, something borrowed and definitely the blues. ****
Review by Pete Feenstra
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 20:00
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