OK, I know I’ve already done my favourite five gigs of the year, but sometimes you see or hear something very special at a gig and it puts all of those cold nights on public transport or long drives to and from gigs into perspective; something which stops you in your tracks and makes you smile or cry or just amazes you. I’ve seen a few of those this year and I thought it would be rude not to share them. Once again, in no particular order, here they are.
Billy Walton is always likely to do something a bit special and he didn’t disappoint at The Buzz Club in Barnet in May. During a guitar solo, he dropped seamlessly into the guitar riff from the Led Zeppelin classic “Kashmir” for a few bars before nailing the intro to one of my teenage favourites “25 or 6 to 4”, recorded by Chicago before they discovered ballads. In true New Jersey tradition, the band locked in instantly while Billy gave it his best “Yeah, I did just do that” grin. Great fun and just a bit strange to hear a guitar solo featuring a fragment of a song that I loved when I was just starting to get into music seriously. You go to a Billy Walton gig, you expect the unexpected.
Paul Rose is one of those blues artists who’s well-known within the blues community but virtually unknown out of it; he’s also a great guitar player. He put together the Paul Rose All-Stars to record an album of standards and to tour the UK this year featuring a couple of ex-members of Was (Not Was), guitarist Randy Jacobs and singer Sweet Pea Atkinson. As a fan of Was (Not Was), that alone would have sold it to me but there was more to come. Towards the end of the set, the band launched into a storming version if the brilliant W(nW) Dallas motorcade song “11 MPH” played with much more attitude and venom than the original and it worked perfectly. I always love it when a band stamps its own personality on a cover and this was a stunning example.
The Kennedys show at Kings Place in London had a couple great moments. I’ve already mentioned “Rhapsody in Blue” elsewhere but there was another moment which was much more personal. Since reviewing The Kennedys album “Closer than you Know”, I couldn’t shake off Maura’s tribute to the late Alex Chilton, “Big Star Song”. It pushes most of my buttons with the Byrds/Merseybeat sus4 chords and a great melody as well as being a moving tribute to a pop legend. So, how pleased do you think I felt when they played the song? Dog with two tails doesn’t even come close, but then it got even better. Apparently The Kennedys don’t play “Big Star Song” live very often, so my experience was rare and special. Thank you Maura and Pete.
I always love to see musicians having a good time and most soloists enjoy trading licks with another player; it’s a challenge and a crowd pleaser. After playing a support set at the Garage in Islington, Aynsley Lister was brought back by headliner Joe Louis Walker to jam for a couple of songs and turned what had been a fairly standard back catalogue set into a highly entertaining sparring match between two players from different generations with a huge amount of mutual respect. Both players were obviously having a great time and the momentum carried on through the remainder of Joe Louis Walker’s set. The audience loved it and the musicians loved it; double bubble.
And finally, Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band. As much as I love Bruce’s music, I had never seen him live before, mainly because I hate stadium and arena gigs, but I finally succumbed this year. Musically, the E Street Band have always been superb (just listen to the Hammersmith Odeon 1975 live album) but The Boss always keeps it fresh by throwing a few curve balls and there’s always a few bits of pure showbiz thrown in as well. At Hard Rock Calling in London this year, he pulled out two memorable and genuinely surprising moments when he brought his mum on stage to dance with him on “Dancing in the Dark” and then brought his sister, Pam, on to join him at the end of the set. These appearances were special because they were surprising and they emphasised the importance of family to Springsteen (including his extended Jersey shore family) and brought a couple of genuinely moving moments into the rock’n’roll circus.
You can keep your big screens, acrobatics, pyrotechnics and instrument smashing, it’s the prospect of moments like these that will make me jump on the train on a rainy Tuesday in January to go and watch a new band in 2014.
If you check out MusicRiot regularly, you’ll know that our contributors have one thing in common; they’re all passionate about (maybe bordering on obsessed by) music. All of the Riot Squad (John Preston, Louie Anderson and, most recently, Klare Stephens) love music of all styles and the reason we do this is because we want to share our passion and maybe get a few more people to listen to the music we love, whether it’s live or recorded. Also, because music is such a personal thing we like to bring that element into our contributions; opinions are always subjective, but at least we’re upfront about it. Often it can feel like shouting in the dark: then you have a weekend like the one I’ve just had.
Last week I published a review of the excellent album “Closer than you Know” by The Kennedys and I was invited to review their gig at Kings Place in London on Friday. I also had a gig lined up for Sunday night, going to watch the Billy Walton Band in High Barnet with some good friends. Both gigs were superb in very different ways; you can read The Kennedys review and previous Billy Walton Band reviews here on MusicRiot and work out for yourself that I’m impressed.
The live performances by these bands, however, are only part of the story. All of the musicians at these two gigs (Pete and Maura Kennedy, Billy Walton, William Paris, Rich Taskowitz and John D’Angelo) are extremely gifted musicians who love what they do and love to interact with their audience personally and online. Both bands mix with the audience when they aren’t actually performing (and sometimes when they are; yeah that’s you Billy and Rich) and have a huge amount of respect for their fans, fellow musicians and songwriters.
Both gigs were superb in different ways; The Kennedys stripped down their songs to arrangements for two acoustic guitars and two voices while the Billy Walton Band played raucous r’n’r (and blues and soul and the rest) in the way that bands from New Jersey do. Both bands were happy to play requests from the audience regardless of the setlist they had prepared. Most importantly, both bands were obviously having a good time. So far, so good, but excellence is pretty much what I expected from these two bands and this weekend was about much more than that.
I’ve been reviewing gigs in London and elsewhere for MusicRiot for six years now and sometimes it can be a bit depressing; you watch incredibly gifted bands and artists performing to audiences which just scrape into three figures and most of them are friends of the band. I’ve been to blues gigs where the majority of the audience at least twice as old as the musicians. It was great to see two very different gigs this weekend where the ages of the audience ranged widely and everyone was there to hear great live music and have a good time. And that brings me on to the reason why we all contribute to MusicRiot.
We don’t ignore the established bands at MusicRiot; we had two reviews of the Daft Punk album last week and we’ve reviewed albums by Bruce Springsteen, Scissor Sisters, Lana del Rey and Saint Etienne in the last year or so. We also love to discover a diverse range of bands and artists that you might not have heard of and tell you all about them so we’ll carry on telling you all about artists like The Kennedys, the Billy Walton Band, MS MR, Sally Shapiro, Tomorrow’s World, Lilygun, Stoneface Travellers, Dean Owens and many more. We’ve even got some pretty good photos for you to look at.
If there’s one lesson that I’ve learned from six years at MusicRiot it’s this; whatever you hear on daytime radio, there’s always good music out there if you know where to look and that’s why the Riot Squad do what they do. And thanks to Richie Taz for the title.
Very occasionally you go to a gig expecting to see a good show and you actually see a brilliant show; The Kennedys at Kings Place was one of those nights. The venue is in a fairly new building behind Kings Cross Station and all of the staff make a real effort to ensure that the audience have a good time; that’s important, but it’s a very small part of tonight’s story.
I feel really guilty that I only heard of The Kennedys for the first time a few weeks ago when they’ve been writing and playing great songs for so long. I reviewed the latest album “Closer than You Know” this week and it’s a great album which you should all have in your collection but, after tonight’s show, I think any true music fan should at least have a copy of their greatest hits package “Retrospective” in their collection as well.
The Kennedys live show is a perfect blend of musical talents; Pete is an incredibly good guitar player (more about that later) who also adds vocal harmonies to the mix while Maura is great country/folk/pop singer who is also a great rhythm guitar player, and that matters when it’s just two people, two guitars and two microphones up there. Truly exceptional songs are the ones which stand up when you tear away all the layers of studio production and there were an awful lot of songs standing proud at this show.
Apart from the musicianship, which is exceptional, there are a lot of things to admire about The Kennedys. They are very generous in their support for fellow songwriters, giving the audience some background (and usually a little anecdote) for most of their cover versions. They engage with the audience, both on and off stage, and each one allows the other space to shine. So, I’m guessing you might want to hear what they actually did.
The set started with a few old favourites featured on “Retrospective”, including “Life is Large”, “Breathe”, “Midnight Ghost” and “9th Street Billy”. Each of the songs is given a spoken introduction to help give it a context in the show and to help build a rapport between the performers and the audience and this, combined with The Kennedys willingness to play requests, gives the evening the feel of a house party hosted by some very talented friends. It certainly creates an intimate atmosphere.
The tour is partly in support of the recent (excellent) album, “Closer than You Know” and about half of the songs from the album are featured, including “Cradle to a Boat”, “I’ll Come Over”, “Marina Dream”, “Big Star Song” (thanks guys) and the U2 cover “Wild Honey”. All of these songs shine in their stripped-down live arrangements and stand up well in comparison with the songs they perform by other songwriters such as Nanci Griffith (“Trouble in the Fields”), Dave Carter (“When I Go”) and John Stewart (“Jasmine”). Pete and Maura are always generous in their praise for their fellow-writers and performers.
I might have mentioned that Pete is an incredibly good guitar player; his playing throughout is superb, but particularly during his solo instrumental pieces. Tonight he played a jazzy version of “Somewhere over the Rainbow”, a contemporary setting of the Bach piece “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” (with harmonics and fret-tapping, no less) and a version of Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” played on an Ovation ukulele which left me speechless and, trust me, that doesn’t happen often.
So add in the traditional English balled “Matty Groves” and the obligatory “Eight Miles High” and that’s just about it for the two sets apart from the anthemic, and very timely plea for tolerance and diversity, “Stand”.
The Kennedys are very accomplished musicians who are completely comfortable with their performance and happy to mix with their audience during the intermission and after the show; they really deserve to be seen by a much wider audience. This tour continues until Thursday 06 June, so you still have a chance to check them out. You won’t regret it.