The inaugural Rockin’ The Blues Festival hit London after 7 gigs – coupled with special meet and greet sessions and guitar clinics – in 8 days over three countries,.
Clearly the Provogue label is taking its concept of a musical family seriously while hoping for the exponential growth of its brand.
To be strictly accurate; Rockin’ The Blues, is all about guitar players and Gary Hoey, the young Quinn Sullivan (with special guest Andy Cortez), Eric Gales and Lance Lopez, provide plenty of bluster, technique and a variety of styles, but in truth not much in the way of blues.
That said, Eric Gales’s promise of delivering 100% passion, energy and emotion is met in full, albeit his penchant for mid-solo eclecticism, and a frankly redundant drum and bass section, plus lengthy explanatory intros don’t always lend themselves to flow.
And it’s the discernible lack of flow that means each artist has to work that bit harder for a commensurate audience reaction.
Perhaps expectations are initially set just a little too high by both the exuberant MC Big Boy Bloater and each artist promising something bigger than we actually get.
It all starts so well, as Gary Hoey is the perfect opener. His high octane set is ignited by the opening boogie ‘Boot Hill Blues’. He adds a deep Robin Trower style tone on ‘Deja Blues’, and impresses us with the glistening self penned ‘Dust & Bones’, and the crowd pleasing cover ‘Born Under A Bad Sign’.
He’s an old school trouper with a modern take on rocking blues, as evidenced by the superbly re-imagined ‘Hocus Pocus’, on which his wah-wah replicates the yodelling part.
He’s a blizzard of tones, shreds and contrasting cool dynamics, while his significant hooks and a booming vocal help make his opening slot an absolute triumph.
Quinn Sullivan follows and provides more questions than answers. He’s a prodigious young talent with huge John Mayer style cross-over appeal that in the long run will surely give him a big career.
Tonight however, the crowd thins out slightly before he wins them back with some intense guitar work, a pleasing vocal with great harmonies.
‘Lifting Off’ is a mellifluous blues-stomp that could almost be Kenny Wayne Shepherd, while the infectious funk and poppy stop-time hook of ‘Crazy Into You’ is a barometer of his Nashville friendly style.
He ups his game with a stellar version of ‘Little Wing’, on a perfect meeting of feel and technique, as his warm vocal draws a deserved big response from the crowd.
He leans into Eric Clapton’s ‘Let It Rain’, with an assurance and soulful delivery that belies his young age, while the song is anchored by some perfect lilting bass lines.
And if his penultimate song comes perilously close to boy band material, he redresses the balance with the magnificent southern rock influenced ‘Midnight Highway’, the title track of his current album.
And therein lies a paradox, as it’s both a great song and the perfect finish to his set, but it could be the Allman Brothers circa 1970.
And so enter the gladiator, as Eric Gales makes the kind of entrance that demands attention. The whole scenario is almost a metaphor for his heavy duty playing and incredible technique, which has pushed him into vanguard of contemporary rock blues. He stands on the precipice of being an icon of his time.
He’s also an innovator who is not content to dwell on his own reputation.
He slips from a down-home opening into an explosive Howlin’ Wolf style riff with a blizzard of notes and contrasting sustain.
His extended version of Freddie King’s ‘Boogie Man’ is a statement of the potential that contemporary blues offers him. He transforms the blues standard via electronic samples and a percussive palette – courtesy of his wife LaDonna – into a massive post-modern groove.
He racks up the tension prior to the kind of out-of-body experience that suggest he’s just put his finger in an electric socket.
He reaches for an emotional connection with a John Lee Hooker style a cappella mantra on Buddy Guy’s ‘Baby Don’t Leave Me. His sinuous tone is underpinned by a huge repeated bass line on a meandering piece that also takes in the ‘Purple Haze’ riff.
He finishes with the kind of ad-hoc Hendrix excursion on which he’s lost in the moment. His playing transcends his environment as he reaches for the stars and adds everything from the ‘On Broadway’ theme to a few incendiary Latino lines.
Tonight Eric Gales is in the house and there really isn’t anyone else like him.
The ghost of John Lee Hooker is revisited as special guest Lance Lopez joins Gales for a husky voiced rendition of ‘Mr. Lucky’, complete with a piercing guitar tone on his golden Telecaster.
Lopez has the kind of lived-in voice that is the blues. He uses it wisely, as he rocks out on the title track of his current album, ‘Tell The Truth’, which provides a priceless snapshot of Eric Gales playing feverish rhythm.
The final 4 guitar jam is more of a celebration – or perhaps an end of tour cathartic release – than a musical triumph. Each player selflessly gives each other too much room, meaning ‘Red House’ loses much of its dynamic.
No matter, the ensemble is all smiles as they roar into a bone crunching ‘Going Down’. It’s transformed from an overplayed cover into something with real vitality and spirit. Each guitarist raises their axe aloft in unison to make sure that any of the earlier circumspect moments are long buried by a joyous finale of rockin’ blues.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by 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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Power Plays w/c 2 April 2018
TAX THE HEAT Taking The Hit (Nuclear Blast)
BLACKBERRY SMOKE Nobody Gives A Damn (Earache)
THE DEAD DAISIES Resurrected (SPV)
CATTAIL BREW Fool’s Gold (Capital City Music Factory/Cargo Records)
Featured Albums w/c 2 April (Mon-Fri)
09:00-12:00 FRONTLINE State Of Rock + 2 (AOR Heaven)
12:00-13:00 GUS G Fearless (AFM Records)
14:00-16:00 TRACK DOGS Kansas City Out Groove (Mondegreen Records)
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