By Cameron Arndt, Pics by CA
On the 26th August I was faced with a small problem. I was fortunate enough to be asked to go along and see – for a fourth time this year – Gerry Jablonski & The Electric Band. No problem there, I knew from experience a great show was guaranteed and, even a mere month after catching them in Edinburgh at the Corn Exchange, I was no less excited for seeing them again. No, the problem was that I also had to write a review about them for a fourth time.
As ever, they provide no shortage of material to cover, but I worried that my skills would prove inadequate to fully articulate just how good this band is. Could I find a fourth way to express Jablonski’s madcap personality and superlative guitar skills? To illuminate the solid, dependable bass work of Grigor Leslie, and the tight, but just slightly flashy drumming of Lewis Fraser? Would I be up to the task of really highlighting just how important Peter Narojczyk’s whirlwind harmonica solos and boisterous stage presence are to the group, and the show as a whole? Were there enough unused adjectives left to describe the band?
If anyone wants to take the time to comb my previous articles on the band for duplicate descriptions you will doubtless find more than a few. There are only so many words in the English language after all. But if I’ve done my job right hopefully I can convey at least a sense of how special this band make each and every gig. There may be a limit to words, but there’s no limit to the depth and complexity of the feelings a top class rockin’ blues band can evoke and engender.
It helped that for the fourth time the band were playing in a very different setting, lending a whole new atmosphere to the gig. Previously I’d caught them in the spacious converted church now known as Cottier’s Theatre, where they played a short set supporting Stevie Nimmo. Then they co-headlined a more intimate gig amongst the lavish 1920s-style grandeur of The Voodoo Rooms in Edinburgh – a world away from the dark bricks and stone setting in Glasgow. For my third experience of the band this year it was off to the aforementioned Edinburgh Corn Exchange where the band played a middle-of-the-bill set at the Edinburgh Blues & Rock Festival. That day, in the biggest venue I’ve yet to catch them in, they really fired on all cylinders to liven up a slightly lacklustre tea time crowd.
This time the band are booked for a headline slot at Glasgow’s Nice & Sleazy. The brooding red walls and underground basement room are a world away from those other three venues – it’s more used to accommodating loud alternative rock or riotous club nights – thus the gig became an intriguing proposition. Would Nice & Sleazy’s change the band’s approach? Would their approach change the feel of the Nice & Sleazy’s?
Before those questions were answered there was the support band to consider. I had only a passing familiarity with Taped Live before tonight, but they immediately became a band I want to see more of. Two piece, bluesy and raw; the duo of Leodhas Barrie (Guitar/Vocals) and ‘Sal’ – short for ‘Salamander’ apparently – (Drums) whip up quite a racket. There may be only two of them but Sal’s cracking, crashing drums and Barrie’s triple amp, double pedal board attack more than fill the little room with high energy blues.
It’s hard for such a band to distinguish themselves from those guiding lights of the genre, The White Stripes and The Black Keys, but Taped Live do an admirable job. Sal’s drumming is far more intricate and entertaining than you’d ever hear from Meg White, while Barrie constantly changes sounds, effects and tones, using the huge bank of fx pedals to add effects and playing inventive solos, slide guitar or simply rocking out some thick, brutal chords.
They batter through a short set of interesting, intricate and raw blues, mostly tracks from their recent EP, Seven Sounds, but they also include a surprising cover in the shape of Neil Young’s Southern Man. They rip the mournful ballad apart and put it back together in their own muscular, stripped back way, and the track is all the more interesting for it.
The young duo are definitely a band to watch out for, and we’ll have a review of their EP on Rock And Roll Traffic in the near future. Meantime you can catch them at the legendary King Tut’s on October 9th!
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Buy Tickets For Taped Live’s King Tut’s Show Here!
GERRY JABLONSKI & THE ELECTRIC BAND
Back to the questions we posed up top… Would the surroundings dictate the night, or would Jablonski and the boys have things all their own way?
Well come on, there was only ever going to be one winner. These guys are professionals after all! The venue and the atmosphere did have a few notable impacts, however. First off Glasgow was beset by heavy rainfall (nothing new there!), but with the air outside being generally warm it turned the basement venue into a sweatbox. Despite the fact the gig was – disappointingly – only about half full, the conditions, and the vocal, good natured support of those who had turned up, seemed to spur the band on and the night took on a humid, embattled vibe that evoked the dank underground dives that thrilling blues and rock bands owned back in the early days of the genre. It’s a world away from the gothic architecture of Cottiers, the big barn-like Corn Exchange or the faux-opulence of The Voodoo Rooms. It’s more intimate, more visceral, more… real.
The restrained build up to opener Heavy Water crackles with electricity. All assembled crowd to the front where they can see the blue-tinted-whites of Jablonski’s eyes through his trademark glasses as he and the black-glad foursome make the very most of the cramped space available to them. Jablonski wheels about from stage-right to centre as he dispenses incendiary licks, while Narojczyk is quickly off the stage and mixing with the fans at the front. Meanwhile Leslie looms from stage left. He doesn’t move much, just stands there working through spot-on walking bass patterns and thumping root notes in concert with Fraser’s hypnotic, rattling drumming.
With an avowed distaste for covers, the Electric Band plummet on through reams of songs of their own making. There are hints of history here and there – some Muddy Waters licks, some Howlin’ Wolf-influenced melodies – but the songs don’t stick to 12 bar, in fact they barely stay still at all. The band constantly keep things interesting with Jablonski’s in-your-face vocal style backed up by the sweeter backing tones of Fraser and Leslie.
Two Time Lover has a hard-hitting shuffle beat and flying harp between every vocal line, while Down To The Ground is like Otis Rush’s So Many Roads on steroids. Later on Soul Sister is a funky departure for the band (check out their recent performance of the track on STV) and it precedes Fraser’s singing spotlight, Anybody. I’ve gone on and on about this one in the past, so this time I’ll simply report what my friend said to me on hearing the song for the first time tonight, ‘That drummer needs to sing more!’
This is probably also the longest set I’ve yet seen from the band, and so there are many songs I hadn’t heard live before. The subtle groove of Black Rain from their first album was a particular highlight. Throughout the show each and every member of the band excels, with the interplay of Narojczyk’s harmonica and Jablonski’s guitar somehow on another level.
Next up is an appearance of the hard rockin’ Trouble With The Blues. I’ve called it a ‘mission statement’ in the past – and it’s no less so tonight with the condensation – and perspiration – coating the walls, and the audience dragged right into the band’s world. Any last pockets of resistance are then overcome by Jablonski’s stirring solo rendition of Nessun Dorma – performed in the style of Jeff Beck, and easily matching the skill and emotion the great man brings to the classic.
The main set closes with the serpentine guitar/harp riff and propulsive beat of Slave To The Rhythm. It’s positively infectious as Narojczyk’s harmonica swoops and curls around the end of Jablonski’s decisively delivered vocal lines and the Fraser/Leslie combo drive the track on and on.
The band step off stage for a few moments before Jablonski returns, having dispensed with his normally ever-present blue glasses and presumably found a towel to dry off and mess up his unkempt hair. He then opens the encore with another fascinating solo instrumental workout, before dropping into a La Grange-style shuffling groove. Fraser bounds back onstage to sing the opening verse of Sherry Dee with the others quickly joining in as the youngster jumps back behind the kit. It’s a brilliant, breathless ending to the show.
Surprise surprise, it doesn’t matter where Gerry Jablonski & The Electric Band play, it doesn’t matter whether they’re in front of their own fans, a festival crowd or even, I’d wager, a group of absolute strangers. Every show is an event, and – it seems – every show is a triumph.
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