Gig review: ERIC GALES – Nell’s Jazz & Blues, London, 5 June 2019

Eric Gales at Nells by Ryan Swanich

An evening with Eric Gales is like a rock-blues therapy session. Every song is analysed, the crowd’s response is measured, the autobiographical stories are analytical in nature and the short burst of incendiary guitar are the proof of his God given skills.

In short, Eric Gales is a unique talent with a wide musical vision that takes in rock, blues, jazz, psychedelia, funk, hip hop and electronica.

His guitar playing is simply sensational. He has a rich tone as smooth as treacle, a vibrato that could cut glass at 50 paces and incredible speed and sleight of hand technique that defies 20/20 vision.

It also helps that he values his own abilities to the point that on songs like ‘Southpaw Serenade’, his subject matter on a bluesy lament concerns his own rejection at the tender age of 6, when he was told he was playing incorrectly. So when he finally climaxes the sultry blues number with some incredible piercing psychedelic wah wah, it feels like a cathartic release of all the injustices that befell him as a young child prodigy.

Eric Gales 2 by Ryan Swanich

He opens with an understated blues which subtly builds to a short, but dazzling shred at the end. And it’s not too long before he shares one of his extra terrestrial moments when the level of his guitar playing intensity on a disguised instrumental version of ‘Smokestack Lightning’ pushes him into the zone, as he delivers waves of magical guitar lines while bobbing, weaving and vigorously shaking his head.

And having brought the crowd to fever pitch early on, he pauses to look around, and discerns that there is a vibe in the room and that he might just “kick our ass.” He proceeds to do exactly that, though not in the way you might imagine, as he takes us on a varied musical journey.

Eric Gales psychedelic by Ryan Swanich

He slips into the booming shuffle ‘Laying Down The Blues’ which features some incredible accompanying funky bass lines from Byron Carter.

Whatever the subject matter, Gales digs deep for an emotional connection and musical salvation. On ‘How Do I Get You’ he crafts a melodic hook with a cinematic feel, as his keyboard player adds a broad sweep leading into another stellar solo from Gales. The crowd responds in full voice, but Gales cups his left ear with his hand as if to suggest he knows he’s nailed it, but he also wants more energy from his audience.

He tells us he asked the club manager how the crowd was looking before stepping on to the stand, and the short notice capacity crowd obviously pleases him.

Eric Gales guitar by Ryan Swanich HR

There’s plenty of variety in a set that feels like he’s limbering up, before he ventures into a sub reggae feel on a tune that might be ‘Been So Long, though the announcements are sometimes inaudible at the back.

No matter, he in his element on the afore mentioned ‘Southpaw Serenade’ which finishes with a gospel vocal sample. And almost warming to his electronic input, there’s a vocoder style intro on the funky ‘Beez That Way’, which has the added advantage of making him raise his own vocal performance.

And having explored a variety of related musical options, he gets down to what he does best, which is to play some spine tingling guitar on the mesmerising ‘Resolution’. You can almost feel the tectonic plates move as the instrumental moves from jazzy noodles to portentous big toned notes over LaDonna Gales’s crisp percussive backing, in a musical flashback to his psychedelic rock antecedents.

And just when you think he can’t take the crowd any higher he’s into the familiar intro of ‘Don’t Fear The Reaper’, and by the time of Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Child’ he’s wrapped a towel round his head, which is a good a way as any to state the obvious need to for some aircon in the venue.

Eric Gales double psychedelic by Ryan Swanich

Eric Gales is one part a guitar genius, one part a story teller and one part an entertainer. What makes him different is that he draws on his own colourful past to infuse his own material with real meaning, plenty of feel, subtle dynamics and a recurring fiery intensity that in his best moments pushes him into another world.

Sometimes when he addresses the crowd there’s almost a sense of wonder about him, as if he can’t quite believe that the enthusiastic crowd gets what trying to achieve. It almost mirrors the collective jaw drop of his fans who also can’t quite believe some of his lightning shreds and the band’s pulsating interplay.

Finally in those moments when the music really grips him – and there are plenty tonight – he’s a physical conduit to another world, reminding us just how exciting rock/blues related music can be.

Review: by Pete Feenstra
Photos: by Ryan Swanich 

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