Gig review: ROCKIN THE BLUES 2019 – JONNY LANG/WALTER TROUT/KRIS BARRAS – 02 Forum, London, 4 June 2019

Johnny Lange, Walter Trout & Kris barras by rockrpix

Whatever Provogue records original vision was for their annual European Rockin’ The Blues’ tour, it could surely not have been much better than this.

Put simply, in terms of passion, energy and balance, tonight’s triple bill delivers different shades of rocking blues and enough individual excellence to satisfy all musical palettes.

Above all, there appears to be a genuine spirit of camaraderie, in which each act brings total commitment to the table, counter-weighted by enough humility in the climatic jam to suggest that when all is well in the tour bus, sparks will fly on stage.

Kris Barras by rockrpix

First up, is the rising star of the UK blues-rock scene Kris Barras. This rock-blues blizzard has apparently come out of nowhere, but as he tells us tonight, he’s been playing since he was 5. He mentions another career path in passing – cage fighting – which might explain his macho strutting and penchant for the big gesture.

No matter, he has the technique, the fiery licks and enough energy to back it all up. More significantly, he has a bunch of songs that deliver power, poise and great hooks.

Kris Barras at Rockin The Blues

His real forte lies in the way his own material conveys a sense of the familiar. The funky groove of ‘Propane’ for example, could almost be Kenny Wayne Shepherd. Then there’s the Gary Moore styled ‘Watching Over Me’, which is an ode to his late dad, and the more adventurous ‘Hail Mary’, which shifts from a gospel opening to searing guitar.

There’s also room for some rock posturing on Zeppelin’s ‘Rock & Roll’, which turns out to be the perfect way to connect with an audience in the graveyard shift.

Taut, dynamic and energetic, Kris Barras is the perfect opener as he lights the fuse impressively.

Walter Trout - Rockin The Blues by rockrpix

And suddenly we’re in the presence of Walter Trout, who tells us he played this very stage 35 years ago. Looking perfectly preserved despite an extended near death experience, Trout is an object lesson is stage craft, as he draws the crowd in with a succession of explanatory introductions and even a humorous put down of:  “a message from our sponsor”, as an over enthusiastic fan interrupts his flow.

And flow is what his set is really all about, from the opening power shuffle ‘I Can Tell’, which is a flashback to his early 90′s career, through the tough rocking ‘Ride Til I’m Satisfied’ and the evening’s highlight, the emotive, big toned cover of Jimmy Dawkins’ ‘Me My Guitar & The Blues’.

There is also an equally uplifting moment when he successfully encourages the crowd to sing manically on ‘Playing Hideaway’. The palpable connection with the crowd transcends the moment and we collectively feel the true power of rocking blues.

Walter Trout 2 - Rockin The Blues by rockrpix

It’s not about the million notes, the power chords, the high volume, or rock and roll shapes, but simply the coalescing of spirit.

Trout further brings poignancy to Hound Dog Taylor’s ‘Sadie’, but not before a excruciating joke about a blues man’s health care. He rounds things off with an unexpected tribute to Rory Gallagher on ‘Bullfrog Blues’, which he turns into a rock and roll party.

Tonight Walter Trout revels in the qualities of passion, spark, durability, possibly his best ever singing  and above all good humour, all glued together with lashings of  guitar.

Jonny Lange - Rockin The Blues by rockrpix

And so to Jonny Lang. If Kris Barras, is the new kid on the black and Walter Trout is a reborn and re-energised blues rocker, then Jonny Lange serves to remind us that once you have the soulful blues bug it never leaves you.

Contorting himself into shapes that would test a yoga instructor, Lang totally immerses himself in the moment. He’s an archetypal white boy soul singer with the ability to colour his lyrics with his heartfelt phrasing, and he occasionally reaches for falsetto to emphasize an emotional nuance.

Jonny Lange 2 by rockrpix

He slips into his set almost unnoticed, save for an impressive light show that at times renders him a dark and mysterious figure at the lip of the stage.

His trademark soulful husk, emotional intensity and ripping guitar work colours a set that cleverly showcases all his many talents.

And even in those moments when his lyrical message rises above the crowd and get lost in the ether, he’s already done enough to convince us that he’s performing as if this day is his last.

He’s pushes himself to the edge on the perfectly weighted ‘A Quitter Never Wins’, as his magisterial guitar playing fills the emotional void left by his phrasing.

He ‘s equally impassioned on the more recent ‘Snakes’, which impresses with a descending line into a big solo, and he gets funky to evoke Al Green on ‘Angel Of Mercy’.

His most telling moment comes when in the middle of the molten set he strips things down to solo acoustic mode with a tremulous voice on ‘Breakin Me’, before segueing into the tension breaking ‘Lie To Me’.

JONNY LANGE.HDjpg

Best of all is his cover of Bruce McCabe’s ‘Still Raining’, as his soulful husk and soaring wah wah solo provides the perfect interpretation of one of the very best songs in the contemporary rock blues cannon.

It takes an artist with rare abilities to scale heights like this and Jonny Lang is that artist. He’s passionate, fiery, soulful and intense, the very elements that help to round of a memorable evening as the ensemble jam out a fitting finale.

Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos: Rockrpix (John Bull)






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