Gig review: BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION – Hammersmith Apollo, 4 January 2018

BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION – Hammersmith Apollo, 4 January 2018

About time. Over six years on from their last shows, Black Country Communion were hitting the boards again. Just when we thought it was all over, the band put on a brace of shows full of zest and rediscovered comradeship in support of a powerful new album tucked in the kitbag.

BCC came out all guns blazing. Portentous air raid sirens wailed and search lights danced amongst the crowd. This was never going to be low-key.

Glenn Hughes bounced onto centre stage, waving his arms and grinning, grinding out the first bass vibrations of ‘Sway’. On his left, Joe Bonamassa nodded to the crowd but was much more understated and was soon crouched over his Les Paul, creating the track’s irrepressible chug.

BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION – Hammersmith Apollo, 4 January 2018

The supporting band members were quickly into their stride. Bonham was hitting the tubs with characteristic muscle; and Derek Sherinian swivelled between banks of keyboards to give this track a Led Zep-like depth.  

‘One Last Soul’ from BCC’s debut followed, again laying down an uncompromising drive and further evidence that Hughes had brought his A game: the vocals were clear, strong and tuneful.

The reception, at least initially, could hardly be described as overwhelming. Whilst the crowd were appreciative, they were not losing their composure. There was a palpable sense of caution, if not scepticism, in the early part of the show that seemed to recognise yet another reunion and another supergroup outing. Was this one more cynical creaming-off exercise?

The showbiz look and feel probably didn’t help. Hughes, Bonamassa and Bonham were all wearing ridiculous shades. Bonamassa clad in his usual shiny suit and Hughes sporting Union Jack-sleeved jacket. When he spoke to the crowd it was with a mid-Atlantic accent and through Hollywood teeth. That explained the sunglasses – when he smiled we all needed them…

But no, this was not a night when the punters were taken for a ride. The music, mercifully, did most of the talking, and it screamed with a machine-gun delivery from amps up turned to a mythical 11.

BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION – Hammersmith Apollo, 4 January 2018

‘Save Me’ was an early highlight. Sherinian’s keys lighting up the track and the Unibonded rhythm groove right on the money. Bonamassa took his first little foray to the front of the stage for a searing solo and Hughes nailed the vocal.

The momentum was in danger of grinding to a halt with the stodgy ‘Wanderlust’, but Sherinian and Bonham came to the rescue with a thrilling mid-song exchange.

The moves between the two lead protagonists looked a fraction uneasy in the first couple of numbers, but Hughes soon settled in to the front-man role with Bonamassa bouncing off him. Their interaction grew immeasurably during the set, but always with Bonamassa as the side-man, even on the tracks where he took the vocal.

BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION – Hammersmith Apollo, 4 January 2018

Such as on ‘Song of Yesterday’, a blues-laden ballad which was about the point where the band turned the tide in the hall. Bonamassa’s voice is a perfectly fine mid-range affair and whilst it can’t match Hughes’ wide-eyed full-throttle theatrics, the two combined and contrasted with remarkable sublimity on this track. Bonamassa’s extended solo drew sustained applause.

There seemed to be a muso-competition underway with Glenn almost matching Joe on the guitar-change front. Then the train was rolling again with the mighty, slab-sided ‘The Outsider’, lifted by gorgeous keyboard runs; and then segued into an imperious ‘This Is Your Time’ via dirty bass growl and an uplifting, anthemic chorus.

Hughes had used various intervals in the show to patter with the crowd about the thrill of playing at home, the joy of being in this band and his love of music. However, when Bonamassa made his one meaningful contribution, it had much greater impact. On the breakdown of the band in 2013, he said, “I decided to be an asshole and it all stopped.” The words came across as a well-received moment of contrition and sincerity.

BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION – Hammersmith Apollo, 4 January 2018

The classic hard rock highpoints were flowing freely now, riding on this new found swell of mutual respect and rock ‘n’ roll lurv. ‘Cold’ was remarkable, filled with atmospheric vocals spliced with raw power from the guitar man. With barely a hesitation, the band kicked into ‘The Battle For Hadrian’s Wall’ again showcasing a massive sound and the Hughes/Bonamassa vocal party.

‘The Crow’ was introduced by Hughes with some mystical guff, but musically this was probably his finest moment, owning the stage and serving up murderous basslines to the crowd down the front. Hughes was brimming with confidence by now and the musicians finally looked like a proper band, at ease with each other and fitting together visually (as well as sonically, which had never been in doubt). Hughes is a fine, fine front man.

BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION – Hammersmith Apollo, 4 January 2018

Gerry O’Connor from The Dubliners who appears on ‘BCCIV’ came onstage to reproduce the poignant fiddle and mandolin he supplies on ‘The Last Song For My Resting Place’. Again, the mix was excellent. The various parts that make up this reasonably complex ballad about a ship’s musician who drowned on the Titanic were pin-sharp and served to convey drama, darkness, power and tenderness in equal measure. The withering instrumental passage was breath-taking. Bonamassa is a fine, fine guitarist.

BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION – Hammersmith Apollo, 4 January 2018

The climax of the song turned into a brief and quite entertaining drum solo from Bonham before a brace of shorter tracks produced the heaviest moments of the gig. The grinding ‘Man In The Middle’ featured some almost rap-like Beastie Boys phrasing from Hughes and then ‘Black Country’ was smashed out with gusto, the jazz-influenced basslines of the recorded version virtually unrecognisable on this full-force live rendition.

Shirking the modern trend to stay on stage and rip straight into the encores, BCC took their rock-star time to re-emerge and deliver a classy ‘Collide’ paired with one of their finest moments, ‘Faithless’, even if it is blatantly Zep-tinged. The keys again were commanding.

BLACK COUNTRY COMMUNION – Hammersmith Apollo, 4 January 2018

‘Mistreated’ from Hughes’ Deep Purple days turned into the sort of trade-off between the two main men that might have been predicted. By now the audience was lapping this up and a dollop of indulgence was not out of place in amongst a very tight show. Even Bonamassa’s noodling at the start of the track was tolerated and presaged an utterly stunning set-piece rendition full of his dramatic pauses, swoops and spirals spinning off Hughes’ guttural blues bass rolls and vocal gymnastics. Brilliant.

The gig ended with another love-in and the four guys taking their deserved plaudits at the front of the stage. An absolute privilege to have witnessed this. BCC are back and this time they mean it.

Review by Dave Atkinson
Photos by Christie Goodwin

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