Review by Gary Spiller for MPM
Outside the signs of autumnal change are evident. Leaves, of various shades of yellow, orange, brown, are falling and collecting underfoot; summer is on the wane and annual migrations are underway.
The southerly passage of the swallows, completely synonymous with this time of seasonal transformation, is well underway. Gathering on telegraph wires they flutter about restlessly as they prepare for their mammoth journey.
Look a little closer and there’s another migration of sorts occurring; not one of a sad departure but one of a most welcome returning to our shores.
The international touring bands are back! Last week Black Stone Cherry arrived to get their tour underway; an advance party, the rock n’ roll point men of 2021. This evening, in Cardiff, the momentum of this ‘migration’ goes up an increment. Much vaunted Californian blues-infused Southern rockers Robert Jon & The Wreck have hit the UK for a highly anticipated 11 date tour having torn apart a variety of venues across mainland Europe.
Opening night in the Welsh capital-city and anticipation is high as a healthy sized crowd fills up The Globe. Walking along the vibrant Albany Road one would be forgiven for not noticing this venue; a one time cinema, it’s hidden in plain sight situated above the shops that have been constructed upon the site of the original Globe Cinema.
Supporting the So-Cal whisky-grizzled renegades is one of the finest exponents of slide guitar one is likely to cross paths with. Hailed as ‘The King of Slide’ the incendiary firebrand that is Troy Redfern is on a course for total domination.
Tonight he’s heading out solo – the musical equivalent of riding bareback – but lacks absolutely none of the punch of his ‘fuller’ output. Kitted with two beautifully crafted National Guitars Resonators and a single kick drum Troy takes to a cluttered stage in near darkness.
This is proper old-schooled rock n’ roll; cables coil around one another like a seething snake pit whilst pedal boards nestle up against one another. An earthy, gritty slide and a rumbling drum beat; this is raw and stripped right back to the bare rock n’ roll bricks, Troy is underway with the consummate foot-stomping ‘Sanctify’. Snarling vocals that spark “These walls are falling down like Jericho” this track is the perfect advert for the wholesome elements that comprise the multi-faceted ‘The Fire Cosmic’. It’s blues-billy boogie with a touch of Rocket From The Crypt’s ‘On A Rope’; our souls are collectively sanctified.
Looking out from under the brim of his hit Troy greets the crowd “How you all doing?” he enquires. Commenting “It’s great to be back doing what we love” – it’s a unanimously shared feeling – before rolling into ‘Falling Down’. Lockdown was a highly productive period for Troy with several albums outputted; as a single reflection this is Troy’s selection. A slightly eastern feel to the intro accompanied by a pounding beat. Eyes closed Troy, illuminated by a single front of stage spotlight, steps forward for the intimate mid-song solo.
“Time for something off the new lp” Troy muses as he introduces the anthemic ‘Ghosts’. A furious foot-stomping beat coupled with a contagious chorus isn’t quite enough for Troy as he sends tendrils of flames from the fret of his battered, but stunningly beautiful, 1929 resonator.
The country anecdotist recounts the escape from an abusive relationship as he emotionally sings “When love is gone, only ghosts of memories remain”. Heart clenching stuff.
A swift change over of guitars to another resonator, this time a eye-catching golden beast, before announcing “Summat off the first album”. The country-blues semblance of ‘Backdoor Hoodoo’ with slide aplenty and a thumping, marauding varmint of a beat. Furious and corybantic this beast howls at the crescent of the midnight celestial lunula.
“Cold fever coming down” growls Troy as the sand-paper coarse gritty bluesy slide of ‘Waiting For Your Love’ hits slap bang between the eyes. Troy extorts the utter maximum from the Triolian resonator’s fretboard; smoke eddies and scintillas of sparks flare from this buccaneering blues-boogie of a roller coaster.
All too very soon Troy announces “Time for one more” as he launches into a smoking version of Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’. Unlike any other this is slick-as-you-like with added cajun-soaked Americana entwined around the pysche-blues atop which Troy pitches his rasping vocals as he rounds off his half hour long set with an exuberant flourish.
It’s a rapid-fire change-over with just enough time to sufficiently catch breath before Robert Jon and the assorted components of The Wreck take to the stage for a shade under 100 minutes of rumbustious, rollickingly blues-drenched Southern rocking with a added shot of country and soul. This evening is the opening night of their first ever UK tour; they’ve been going since formation back in 2011, and they’re clearly delighted to finally have a crack at the UK. There’s a definite buzz throughout the media with their name entwined about the deserved hype.
They open up with raw rhythms of ‘The Devil Is Your Only Friend’, the opening track off their 2015 debut album ‘Glory Bound’, laid down with large servings soul by the collective beating heart of Robert Jon (rhythm guitar / vocals), Warren Murrel (bass) and the ever smiling Andrew Espantman (drums). Steve Maggiora’s striking keys swirl and entwine like a voracious wall-climbing plant whilst out stage right Henry James ascends on a course for six-string heaven with delicious lick after delicious lick. The banquet has begun and the quintet of So-Cal musicians are keen for the gathered to satiate their hunger.
RJ peers out into the gloom of the auditorium before giving an appreciative shout out to Troy and then enquires “Are we here to have a good time?” RJ and James’ twin guitar intro heralds the southern-country delights of ‘Do You Remember’. There’s a nod of hats in the direction of the Allman Brothers whilst RJ adds a dash of Don Henley in the vocal department. Spiralling keys interweave with sumptuous six-strings within an overall vivacious 70s vibrancy.
Goosebumps aplenty as the melding of main dish blues-boogie and a side-order of countryana is delivered in 2016s ‘Hey Hey Mama’. RJ and cohorts shine their love light upon the assembled. This is in esteemed company atop the peak of infectious material; a cracking solo from James wraps up this delectable slab of rock.
Before trucking into ‘Work It Out’ RJ gets a problematic mic resolved; vocals have been a little muddy but the attention to detail is noted and Stuart, out the back, on sound tech duties is duly thanked for his rectifications. The soulful, gospel-infused blues drive right through the heart of the crowd; a beautifully conveyed parcel with hints of Ella Fitzgerald, Aretha Franklin et al.
The swaggering blues of ‘Everyday’, the latest single, is the Californians first foray of the evening into their recent uber-release ‘Shine A Light On Me Brother’; this album has kicked up a storm since release and their name is deservedly right out there. Stepping back within the ranks RJ gives stage front to James for a scintillating solo.
These are sumptuous in the extreme and well-balanced within the realms of the track. Far, far removed from selfish, self-indulgent noodling these are solos that flow without interruption segueing seamlessly with total empathy. RJ leads the throng, hands in air, to gospel-inspired worship with his musical brethren broadly smiling alongside as honky-tonk keys hammer home.
A quick retune prior to a So-Cal styled introduction of the meeting of Aerosmith and Lynyrd Skynyrd seductively melded with a gorgeous blues edge; this is a special number for sure and the crowd announce their appreciation loudly as it fades with organ-like keys into the following ‘The Death of Me’; a gentle bluesy Eagle-esque wandering through the Arizona badlands replete with emotive lyrics, licks and effervescent solo.
Southern-rocker ‘Blame It On The Whiskey’ is passionately delivered even with RJ breaking his 5th string. Unphased one and all continue unabated via a couple of delicious and well-placed lead solos; bassist Murrel is thoroughly enjoying the moment and steps forward from the shadows to join his six-string brothers out front.
Convivial drummer Espantman leads the fill, as RJ switches to a cherry red Gibson Les Paul, before Murrel combines. Returning to the fold RJ comments “It’s been a long time since we’ve been on the road. We’re specially happy to be back in the UK.” The swanky blues-groove of ‘High Time’ rocks along; James treats the masses to super-slick slide solo as the five-piece makes the ‘noise’ of ten.
‘Ain’t No Young Love Song’ takes a trip along the freeway to Tom Petty central; driving guitars and atmospheric keyboards underwriting unashamedly American rock vocals.
A strangely space-like segue works well as RJ and The Wreck slide into the Black Crowes flavoured vibes of ‘Don’t Let Me Go’; a rip-roaring blues-edged rocker gives, if we really required it, further ample demonstration of the high quality of craft on exhibition herein.
RJ nods whilst musing “First time in Wales, so far pretty good!” The Globe explodes into multifarious coloured fragments as the opening chords of smash hit “Shine A Light On Me Brother’ fly free. No words are really required as the place goes apeshit for this full blown southern rocker meets blues whilst wrestling a combined flanking manouevre of soul and gospel. Think about Jake and Elwood chauffeuring Ray Charles and Aretha Franklin in ZZ Top’s fabled 1933 Ford Eliminator coupe and you get the overall idea.
Blues-drenched ‘Old Friend’ brings things down in a controlled manner as RJ declares gravelly “You plus me equals tragedy”; right arm raised he leads the crowd through the chorus in a phenomenal outpouring of raw emotion.
A thermally magmatic set is brought to a close with the soulful ‘Cold Night’; heralded by twin guitars to the fore before James ‘duels’ with Maggiora’s keys complete with some Gene Simmons-like tongue wiggling! The house is brought down as the track, and set, closes. A terrific night which will surely be repeated to packed crowds around the UK and across mainland Europe through the remainder of September and into early October. A return will be hotly welcomed no doubt!
Photography by Kelly Spiller for MPM