Gig review: WILKO JOHNSON – Ritz, Manchester, 18 March 2015

Wilko Johnson, Giants Of Rock - 9 February 2014

For the second time in as many years I have the pleasure of watching a show by Wilko Johnson, by now I’m sure everyone knows of his incredible journey in the past two years which has taken him from being diagnosed with terminal cancer to a farewell last tour and final album, then through surgery and being pronounced clear and now a tour to celebrate the best outcome he could ever have imagined.

The ‘Still Kickin’ tour has sold out at pretty much all venues as fans want to come along and celebrate with him and get to listen to the music played by one of the most distinctive punk guitarist ever, with his legendary ‘Duck Walk’ and jerky playing style matched by his plain black suit/pudding bowl haircut and eerie 1000 yard stare he was the mainstay with Dr Feelgood for some 6 years and helped define their style and indeed the music of a generation.

The Ritz was filling up early tonight and there were barrier hangers from door opening time which meant that support act Eight Rounds Rapid had a decent crowd to play to. As soon as they came onstage and started playing there was a very distinct style to the sound and indeed the young guitarist’s style was very familiar, it was only later I realized that it was Wilko’s son Simon in the band.

Wilko Johnson - Giants Of Rock

Although the band don’t push any link with Wilko, their stage dress of plain black suits and their definite R&B punk sound certainly comes from an era dominated by the Dr Feelgood.

David Alexander’s lyrics are bang up to date and mimic the current Canvey Island/Essex scene and his half spoken delivery is basic and fits the whole stage demeanor as they take us through a set from their debut album ‘Loss Leader’ that includes tracks ‘Dostoevsky’ and ‘Channel Swimmer’.  As ever it’s a reminder to always catch the support bands as you never know who they might be.

So looking down on the crowd waiting for Wilko to start it was easy to see the age of the crowd tonight by the amount of shiny heads, definitely no need for a mirror ball for tonight!, but it was also great to see the wider age also which shows the power of the music is ageless. Wilko and his band stroll onstage to rapturous applause and cheers, he is joined as ever by Norman Watt-Roy, one of the most expressive bass players I’ve ever seen, and Dylan Howe.

With a set that kicked off with the first of many Dr Feelgood tracks, ‘All Through The City’ and followed by WJB track ‘Dr Dupree’ Wilko was as straight and yet as animated as ever, his same plectrum-free jerky delivery and his strutting around the stage linked with his basic ‘thank you’ after each track, indeed in all he only delivered all but a few lines of chat but rather let the music do the talking for him.

Pulling tracks ‘Keep On Loving You’ and ‘Going Back Home’ from his collaborative 2014 album with Roger Daltrey and then classics like ‘Roxette’ certainly got the crowd going and a few pogo dancing.

Surprisingly we get two encores; extended versions of ‘Bye Bye Johnny’ and ‘Route 66′ showing that this is not a halfhearted tour but a full on ‘Still Kickin’ tour and looking at the latest press releases Wilko has booked himself a number of festival dates over the following year including appearing at the annual Rory Gallagher festival in Ballyshannon Ireland.

Review and photos by Simon Dunkerley

Wilko Setlist: All Through The City (Dr. Feelgood song), Dr Dupree, Keep On Loving You, Sneakin’ Suspicion (Dr. Feelgood song), Paradise (Dr. Feelgood song), Going Back Home (Dr. Feelgood song), When I’m Gone, Roxette (Dr. Feelgood song), Everybody’s Carrying a Gun (Solid Senders cover), Back In The Night (Dr. Feelgood song), She Does It Right (Dr. Feelgood song), Encore: Bye Bye Johnny (Chuck Berry cover), Encore 2: Route 66 (Nat King Cole cover)

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