Gig review: BLUES PILLS/THE VINTAGE CARAVAN/BLACK WOLF – The Dome, London, 18 November 2014

Blues Pills - Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 18 November 2014

And suddenly everything is 1971 again, from the three long-hair bands and their similar looking audience, to a stage full of Orange amps, virtuoso bass players, screaming guitarists, wah-wah pedals, the smell of patchouli and psychedelic posters.

Blues is alive and well, but heavily disguised as high volume, riff driven rock. And who better to headline such a triumvirate than the international band of the moment Blues Pills?

They have a knack for incorporating retro influences into a contemporary patchwork quilt of crossover rocking blues that appeals to a wide ranging audience as evidenced by tonight’ s impressive gathering.

Blues Pills - Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 18 November 2014

And what a gathering it is, a multi-generational crowd including bikers, hippies, punks and startled blues fans, who all alternate between fist pumping, singing along, head banging, idiot dancing and swinging the occasional pint.

So after a reality check that persuades me I really am actually in 2014, we all bliss away in the good company of  the two main bands who are signed to the Nuclear Blast label,  and a tour support Black Wolf who do a good job in tough circumstances.

All three bands offer a different variation of high octane rock, while borrowing thinly disguised riffs from Free, Zeppelin and Sabbath. It works really well as they add their respective energy levels and incendiary solos.

Black Wolf - Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 18 November 2014

Bristol’s Black Wolf open things in a brusque manner and make the best of playing to early comers in search of a pint and a spot in the darkened room.

They work hard to engage the crowd in some laboured ‘call and response’, and somewhere in between staccato bass lines, Scott Sharp’s confident vocals and John Greenhill’s blazing guitar, they impress with a muscular style and songs like ‘Relief’ and the closing ‘Sea Of Mercy’ to earn a decent reception.

The Vintage Caravan - Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 18 November 2014

Next up is  Iceland’s The Vintage Caravan who up the anti with a booming set anchored by a bristling, topless male rhythm section, including bass player Alexander Örn Númason who is also effectively a front line player and indulges himself in a one man work out at the front of the stage.

Just about everything is bass-led, but it works remarkably well. Frontman Óskar Logi Ágústsson is master of the grand gesture and backs it up with several incendiary shreds, in a sort of neo-Metal version of Larry Miller.

The energetic band connect well with the crowd and deliver a rip-roaring set that occasionally slips into a dreamy Floydian feel before returning to bone crunching stoner rock and a speeded up ‘Paranoid’ riff on their best song ‘Midnight Meditation’.

Blues Pills - Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 18 November 2014

And so to Blues Pills, a part Swedish, French and American combo who are fired up from the get-go by drummer André Kvarnström.  His metronomic timing, pounding rhythms and extravagant cymbal splashes are offset by guitarist Dorian Sorriaux’s funky rhythm guitar on an extended intro, before vocalist Elin Larsson adds her formidable range and presence. She’s not so much Joplin (her voice doesn’t quite have the depth) but she constantly defies expectations with impossible vocal swoops that resonate at the back of the room.

One moment she’s studiously delivering her lines, the next she’s lost in a song bashing a tambourine and dancing like a dervish, as her guitarist slips into the first of several extended solos. ‘Ain’t No Change’ is a good example, beefed up by a pounding rhythm section, her impassioned vocals and lashings of guitar.

Blues Pills - Shepherds Bush Empire, London, 18 November 2014

Sorriaux is an interesting player who realizes the value of space between moments of contrasting intensity and introspection.  At one point he evokes Peter Green as Elvin soars above him to shape a song whose title is lost in the wall of volume. The extended piece has a stop-start feel to it and all but segues into a ripping Blackmore style solo.

‘No Hope For Me’ provides a pivotal moment. It’s a more tightly arranged number with an enveloping groove and features one of Elin’s best vocals, suggesting that for all their bluster and sparkling extemporization, the band also has the ability to write a great song.

Blues Pills are more than old wine in new bottles, but to coin a cliché they are fast brewing up their own vintage to create a nouveau bouquet.

Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Thanira Rates Photography

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