Just like their viking history, Danish bues-rockers Thorbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado came, saw, conquered by funking up the house with a high energy show that breathes fresh life into the big band blues review format.
With a name like Thorbjorn Risager & The Black Tornado, it’s incumbent on the band to search for direct ways to make an immediate connection with the crowd.
It helps of course that they have an incredible singer with an earthy baritone who at various times evokes Ray Charles, Nat King Cole (!), Tom Waits, but stamps his own personality on a band with many strengths.
Each band member is woven into the fabric of a performance that features their incredible chops, plenty of good humour, handclapping, call and response sequences and choreography.
They say music is a universal language, and TR and his pals confirm as much with a rip- roaring show that transforms a slumbering Monday night into a feverish dance party that has every element that a blues/rock /soul review should have.
This band is clearly the sum of its parts. There’s no weak link in the band and each member takes to the mic at different times during the course of the evening, as part of a performance that keeps the responsive crowd on their toes from beginning to the end.
The Danish septet swing, boogie, get all soulful and of course rock and roll. They have the ability to take the house up, down and sideways and do so with their own brand of high octane blues rock, tempered by some deeply soulful touches.
They open with a swagger on the brusque ‘If You Want To Leave’, which sets the standard for a smoking set that is big on grooves, burgeoning solos – including the stellar horn section of Kasper Wagner on saxes and Peter Kehl on trumpet – and Thorbjorn’s warm phrasing which brings feel and expression to even the most mundane of songs, though there are barely any of those in a pulsating 2 set show.
And they make an instant impact, even though virtually no one in the room has seen the band before. Moving swiftly from a booming blues-rock opening to the swampy funk of ‘Burning Up’ – a song that wouldn’t be out of place on a Robert Cray album – the band slips into a mellifluous set that hits all the right buttons and leaves plenty of space for solos. And while Kasper Wagner in particular explores every last tonal possibility from the horn of his sax, the band seems content to let the crowd dig the grooves and check out the variety and depth of the Thorbjorn’s songs.
Thorbjorn then tells us that it is the rule of the band that everybody who has a microphone must say something, and so drummer Martin Seidelin introduces the soulful lilting funk of ‘Paradise’ by saying they want to give the UK something back for it musical heritage over the years.
And quickly we’re into the forthcoming single, a beautifully crafted ballad called ‘I Used To Love You’, which mines another soulful groove as Thorbjorn extends the occasional vowel and shows us the true art of phrasing.
He then hand us over to boogie pianist Emil Balsgaard by introducing him thus: “he’s a nice guy, he’s good looking and he can play the boogie”. Emil’s two handed attack duly sparks the horn section and in a flash the band is swinging full tilt.
TR & TBT are road hardened combo but they clearly still enjoy connecting with a crowd and if their musical versatility allows them to explore every nuance of blues related music, it’s the strength and originality of their own material that makes them such a breath of fresh air.
‘Too Many Roads’ features Peter Skjerning on slide guitar and is a triumph of feel and presence, while the band strips things down further for an unlikely but wholly convincing cover of Nat King Cole’s ‘China Grove’, on which Thorbjorn excels on a beautifully voiced piece.
They rock out the first set by incorporating the ‘Boom Boom Club’ into a call-and-response sequence and rise again in part two with the atmospheric ’Long Forgotten Track’ – which is just as mesmerising live as it is on record – and a new song ‘The Train’ complete with Emils’ deft piano fills.
The crowd then warms to the slinky, funky groove of ‘Change My Game’, the title track of the band’s next album. They re-invigorate ‘Baby Please Don’t Go’ before storming into the closing ‘All I Want Is You’ which rocks the house and brings a deserved encore. But not just any encore!
In a barnstorming climax to the show they successfully exhort every last person to dance along to a magisterial piece of funk that has the kind of intensity that Sly Stone was known. But Tonight we’re in the presence of Danish greatness and a show that everyone will never forget.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos by Phil Honley except Paul Clampin/London Backline where stated
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UK Blues Broadcaster of the Year (2020 and 2021 Finalist) Pete Feenstra presents his weekly Rock & Blues Show on Tuesday at 19:00 GMT as part of a five hour blues rock marathon “Tuesday is Bluesday at GRTR!”. The show is repeated on Wednesdays at 22:00, Fridays at 20:00). This show was first broadcast 2 August 2022.
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JAIME KYLE Driving With The Brakes On (Conquest Music)
SCARLET DORN Born To Suffer (SPV Recordings)
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09:00-12:00 LESSMAN VOSS Rock Is Our Religion (Atomic Fire Records)
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14:00-16:00 THE SLAMBOVIAN CIRCUS OF DREAMS A Very Unusual Head (indie)
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