The 2016 Roadstars triumvirate is a triumph of musical hunger and passion over cultural and musical diversity.
Mancunian powerhouse Federal Charm have a punk like fervour that taps into classic rock sensibilities with an occasional bluesy undertow. Aaron Keylock is a young 18 year old slide player from Oxford with early 70′s Johnny Winter meets Rory Gallagher style material, and Nashville’s Simo is a free-from power trio who evoke Hendrix, Cream and George Clinton, while oozing soul and exploring psychedelia.
At first it all teeters on the brink of incompatibility, almost as if hosts Planet Rock have tossed three bands together in a blender with the hope that something coherent will result. But as the evening unfolds it all begins it make sense.
As each band picks up the baton and runs with it, the energy levels rise, the crowd gets more vociferous, and each combo stretches out a little more and you can feel the evening shaping up very nicely
The intimate setting of the upstairs O2 Academy readily lends itself to a three band bill that a lot of people have taken on trust.
Federal Charm hit the stage early with an overwhelming adrenalin rush, impossible energy levels and a brand of staccato rock that threatens to overwhelm the crowd and almost gives the impression they are playing for themselves.
They are straight-to-the-vein rockers with breathless arrangements. Vocalist Nick Bowden manfully tries to steer the ship while his left wing man, guitarist Paul Bowe, is busy head banging, but he finally relaxes enough to reveal a full arsenal of solos that match his pulsating rhythm work.
Suddenly as if by magic, they go through the gears and things start to click, and by the time of ‘Nobody’s Fault But Mine’, the crowd’s appreciation rises to a roar.
Vocalist Bowden – he of the newly shaven head – makes a good fist of up tempo material that varies from the breakneck to the spiky and occasionally lends itself to blues tinged muscularity.
They impressively build a well received set full of impassioned playing and interesting material of which ‘Guess What’ has a Zeppelin style drilled riff and ‘Silhouette’ shows they can shape a good melody to match their high energy levels, while the double-time ‘Give Me Something’ takes us back to 60′s r&b.
Guitarist Paul B shouts out: “This is the best London crowd we’ve had in 4 years” and they don’t look back.
Aaron Keylock is still only 18 and has been locked in with powerhouse drummer Sonny Greaves (Dennis Jnr.) for a few years now. He’s rapidly honing his own style carved out of major influences such as Johnny Winter an Rory Gallagher, but fashioned to his own ends.
He’s initially let down by a mushy mix, but quickly rallies to count the band into the riff-driven ‘Sun’s Gonna Shine’, on which the muscular rhythm section makes it’s presence felt on a big groove.
He switches to slide for the beguiling ‘Spin the Bottle’, which is given a Keith Richard style vocal drone and works surprisingly well.
His vocals waver slightly on ‘All The Right Moves’, but the song’s stop-time dynamics and his ripping guitar ensures a strong finish, and he seals the deal with the slide-led ‘Against The Grain’ which has echoes of Johnny Winter.
And so to Simo. To call them free form is to attest to the fact that they tap into the spontaneity of the moment. They build a tsunami of a wall of sound as they move every last air molecule in a search of their sonic nirvana.
They swamp the room with a kaleidoscope of colours. Such is the cathartic release of the opening brace of songs that vocalist J.D. Simo actually apologises for the primal anger, before explaining that there is also an optimistic counterbalance that we should all seek.
Invariable this is provided by his own exquisitely detailed playing, especially when we are transported back to a 70′s west coast musical landscape.
As they slip into ‘Its All Right’, they evoke a heavy version of ‘Spoonful’ with a distorted metal type tone and a further angst ridden vocal.
A very famous guitarist in the audience asks me what amp J.D. is using, but there is no time to answer as J.D. is busy howling again, stalking the stage and painting a soundscape that only he would know what to call.
Simo is a unique trio who immerse themselves in black psychedelic soul, though such is the timbre of J.D.’s manic emotive delivery that in his more restrained moments he closer to the late great Eddie Hinton.
They hit a high point with a hard assed funky groove which beautifully resolves itself in a array of wah-wah inflected notes, before they the zoom into the ether, while in sharp contrast ‘I’d Rather Die In Vain’ threatens to be crushed by its own gargantuan weight as it heads for a manic crescendo.
The best moments come with the visceral band interplay on the subliminal funk of ’Return’, on which J.D.’s guitar playing and the percolating rhythm section are in perfect synchronicity.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Mark Hughes at 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 20:00
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