02 April 2019
Tuesday night in Bristol at The Fleece. If you weren’t at this gig, you haven’t gigged.
The Fleece is one of the finest independent music venues and was a sheep trading market in the 1800s, hence its name and flagstones. The shepherds have long since gone, but on entering the site tonight you’re greeted by a line of customers buying merch from a man in a bandana: Chris Shiflett himself.
The Foo Fighters’ axeman, a honky-tonk guitarist, man of various musical faces, podcaster, and now merch salesman is currently on a mini European tour to promote his forthcoming solo album. It’s been two years since the Santa Barbara native easily packed out two small shows at London’s 100 Club and Water Rats. So, lesson learned, he’s returned to play bigger shows in more cities, including Dublin, Brighton, London, Bristol, Manchester, Glasgow, and Edinburgh.
The night in Bristol begins with the audience cheering for opener Roisin O’Hagan, whose sparkly top is complemented by the light bouncing off her glossy red acoustic guitar. She brings a big smile, like someone who’s just opened her birthday present, and a crystal voice that shines through the darkness.
Accompanied by just a second guitarist, hers is a simple set-up, but the sweet country-pop tunes she performs effortlessly fill up the room and each is met with warm applause.
But tonight most of the clapping, cheering, and shouting is reserved for the main act. Chris walks onto a stage barely big enough to hold himself and three backing musicians and almost immediately rips into his Telecaster to get the party started with Girl’s Already Gone and Sticks & Stones.
Chris is mostly known as a great lead guitarist, but he’s also a brilliant storyteller, and these solo shows are a rare occasion for showcase his abilities as a frontman. He connects with the audience, treating the capacity crowd of 450 with a well-balanced mixture of humour, music, and personal stories.
“I was saying to the band I’ve been to Bristol loads of times. Left the Hotel this morning… I’ve never been to Bristol before,” he confesses. “Whoa, Bristol! Where have you been?” The loud roar combined with applause fills the room as Chris admits his newly discovered love of the historic Somerset capital.
Shiflett’s own music is a relaxed mixture of honky-tonk tunes and rock’n’roll beats. Supported by the full band, the songs from West Coast Town sound much bolder and fuller than the acoustic sets I witnessed in London in 2017. Known for his massive guitar work Chris doesn’t disappoint and pulls out some tasty licks, grooving solos, and impressive riffs. Fool’s Gold and Blow Out The Candles turn the place into a sea of human waves, swinging to the rhythm.
The smiles and laughs are shared on stage and with the audience, making this an intimate experience rather than the sold-out show of a world famous guitarist.
Ignoring all given advice “to not talk about Brexit”, Chris starts a political rant about Brexit and Trump. The American President is as unpopular as the current state of UK politics, and the crowd happily participate in singing along to the line “I hope you’re doing all right!” during This Ol’ World, from the forthcoming album Hard Lessons.
Having played guitar since he was a kid, Chris makes it look like the easiest thing in the world. He cheerfully tells a story of his son dumping his first girlfriend through text message, eliciting a mixture of booing and laughter from the audience. The anecdote introduces Welcome To Your First Heartache, another teaser from the upcoming album.
The night passes by with more tunes and stories. This is a rare occasion to connect with a musician you usually see from behind the barrier and security line, playing big stadium stages with Foo Fighters. Chris is funny, down to earth, and makes it feel very natural. Tonight’s performance follows the news of Mick Jagger being hospitalised due to a heart condition. So, after wishing Sir Mick good health, Chris and his band pay homage with Star Star from the Rolling Stones album Goats Head Soup.
The London shows two years ago saw Chris completely overwhelmed and unprepared for an encore. This year he was ready, but London wasn’t. Turns out the audience didn’t really call for one. So, after the poor experience, he’s abandoned encore breaks tonight. “So, welcome to your encore Bristol! Thank you for demanding it!” he shouts, never leaving the stage.
Together Again, I’m Still Drunk, and West Coast Town are the final songs of the evening. The fun-filled, honky-tonk Americana journey is over. But, with his declaration that tonight’s gig is the best so far, the fans in Bristol hope to see more of Chris Shiflett in the future.
Review and photography by Edyta Krzesak for Metal Planet Music.
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