This may well be the first time two American label mates who have known each other down the decades make their UK debut’s on the same night.
And while the evening brings a sharp contrast in styles, the two guitarists are conjoined by their respective explosive attacks.
Gary Hoey is a classic rock guitarist with a blues bent. His style is tasteful, melodic and in the pocket. Later comes Eric Gales, a magisterial technician of frightening abilities, who delivers each solo as if it’s his last.
Together the two guitarists provide blood and thunder counterweighted by a bluesy light and shade.
But first to Gary Hoey, one of the hardest working guitarists in rock blues, who recently cut ‘Dust & Bones’, his 20th album and the best of his career.
He’s a crowd pleaser and the enthusiastic fans warm to his engaging persona, levered in by a handful of familiar covers given an extra lift by some incendiary solos.
And while his choice of ‘Going Down’ for the opener seems like the proverbial inverted ice cream cone, there’s was no doubting his fluid guitar style and his impeccable drum tight band featuring AJ Pappas on bass and Matt Scurfield on drums.
He’s an experienced performer with true stage craft and is a guitarist whose touch and tone brings contrasting feels to the same song, and who above all knows the value of dynamics.
His set flies by in the blink of an eye, as he barely pauses for breath before the deep-toned, Robin Trower inspired opening of ‘Deja Blues’, and the very catchy title track of his ‘Dust & Bones’ album.
He’s one part Bryan Adams, one part The James Gang, but all moulded into his own defining style.
‘Back Against The Wall’ owes much to Freddie King, and he’s smart enough to change the pace on the rockabilly style ‘Who’s Your Daddy’.
Better still, is the way he overcomes the studio trickery on his album opener, the slide-led ‘Boxcar Blues’, which still has much to offer even when denuded of it’s big studio production.
There’s still time to pay homage to the late Johnny Winter with a brace of dobro outings, of which his own ‘Steamroller’ really gets inside Johnny gnarly vocal style, while Gary’s bottleneck takes care of the rest.
He riffs hard, he uses measured sustain, judicious wah-wah, he flanges, he makes all the right shapes, he shreds and gets down to the ‘Dust & Bones’ and then damn it, he finished with a Metal version of Focus’s ‘Hocus Pocus.’ A memorable set Sir!
And so to Eric Gales. If we’ve waited a long time for this overdue UK appearance then he milks the moment for all its worth. Like a heavyweight champ he takes to the stage with a towel round his neck, a baseball cap and plenty of bling. He revs the crowd up before finally slapping the guitar round his neck.
We’re straight into an ear splitting heavy duty funky opener which fills the spaces like Bootsy Collins and might be called ‘Yeah’, and on which his bass player Cody Wright occupies most of the headroom as Gales content himself playing muscular rhythm. The perfunctory end of the song says more about his guitar playing in the 15 seconds it takes to deliver the closing line, than in all of the preceding 5 minutes of the number as a whole.
And it’s those flashes of brilliance, when he momentarily reveals his hand and goes into overdrive that defines the breathtaking Gales.
He addresses the crowd like a preacher and asks for some silence to honour the recently fallen in Manchester. He smartly deflects an over zealous fan’s exhortation for the crowd to be quiet for Eric, by saying: “It’s not about me.”
You can feel his sincerity regarding the moment, but for the rest for the night, there’s only one man in the house with the kind of jaw dropping ability to effortlessly swap genres, mix his tones, shred like an angel and still retain a sense of humour to offset an avalanche of notes and technical mastery.
Remarkably, he does manage to quell the excited capacity crowd and after a copious amount of thank you’s, he finally get down to business, telling us he’s going to number the tracks from the new album, just so we know which one is which.
The succession of preambles, exaggerated poses, whoops and ear splitting volume makes for a real Hollywood feel, but there’s no denying his frightening ability on his left handed, ‘upside down’ guitar.
‘Change In Me’ – aptly subtitled as ‘The Rebirth’ – does indeed reflect the optimism of his new lease of life. Tonight’s set is essentially contemporised r&b, deep funky grooves with accompanying loops and pre-recorded vocals, including the faux inflight intro announcement.
But when he goes for it, he thinks nothing of discarding his baseball hat and losing himself in the moment, something he also does later on in the middle of ‘Catfish Blues’, with some head shaking virtuosity.
A slowed down version of the current single – Freddie King’s ‘Boogie Man’, shows that beneath all the bluster he also has a warm expressive voice.
He’s always been a great guitarist in search of his own style. The flashes of Hendrix meets Cream are still there and he get all jazzy on the intro of ‘Sea Of Blood’, showing a welcome lightness of touch that is underpinned by bass player Cody Wright, who adds Jaco Pastorious style notes before the band hits a more familiar funky groove.
Wright nearly overstays his welcome on a technically brilliant bass solo that doesn’t really add much to the song, before an unexpected intro to ‘Don’t Fear The Reeper’.
Eric showcases his wife LaDonna’s feverish percussion on ‘Swamp’, which features the kind of incendiary guitar playing that long time fans have waited decades to witness. He doesn’t disappoint and deservedly milks the moment fully with another whoop that mimics his BOOM hash tag.
There’s still time for a flashback to his early career Hendrix comparisons, which he fully validates with some staggering virtuosity on a Zeppelin infused ‘Voodoo Chile.’
If he entered the ring tonight as the comeback king, he triumphs with a full blown knockout.
He’s a colourful showman with heaven sent chops and a vocal range that brings full expression to his booming funky grooves. As rebirths go they don’t come much better.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by John Bull Rockrpix
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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