Thursday, 27 February 2014

Roger, Wilko & Out: Wilko Johnson & Roger Daltrey @Shepherds Bush Empire - 24\2\14

All things considered he ain't looking that bad, quite sprightly, grinning and gurning, belted out some bluesy R&B to a packed Empire. But enough about Roger Daltrey, how's the doctor defying Wilko Johnson holding up tonight?

I'm not going to pretend I'm a life long Wilko or Feelgoods devotee and that his recent illness has sent me scurrying to the back catalogue to have an opinion after he's gone like a good music nerd should. This was very much a last minute thing with a friend unable to go but I was devoted enough to queue up outside and plant myself near the front. And after tonight I might just take suggestions on where to go for top Wilko.

The poster for the night (see above) billed the show like an old prizefight or right royal ruble wrestling match but the atmosphere was warm and friendly. Usually at these sold out Empire shows there is a fair bit of elbowing to the front, pushing and general unpleasantness but not from Wilko's crowd.

As soon as the lights went down Wilko and his band scampered to their places and almost exploded into life. In a pattern set for the next 90 minutes or so, every machine gunning run Wilko took across the stage was cheered to the rafters.

Opening with a short set without Daltrey, there was no let up in energy and musicality.
Was unfamiliar with 90% of the material tonight but 'Dr Dupree' particularly impressed. I was lucky enough to be on Norman Watt-Roy's side of the stage and it was a pleasure just to watch him play his bass like a lead guitarist would. His bass runs and that deep, twangy sound he produced on 'When I'm Gone' was as vital to the sound as Wilko's guitar. His Blockhead hoppo Dylan Howe on drums ensured a tight but loose rhythm throughout.

Much later when exiting the venue a young herbert behind me said to his pal "I think that was the best bass player I've ever seen". he may well not be wrong.

Whe I heard they'd covered Dylan's 'Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window' I was dubious about whether it would work but Daltrey brings a soulful depth to the song and Johnson's playing is stately and sublime while maintaining a slightly jagged edge.

After the wordy intro and infectious riff of 'Roxette' (ooh, I know that one!) Roger from 'The 'orrible 'Oo took centre stage looking for all the world like Lovejoy as played by Burt Bacharach. Still fairly trim in slimming black and voice in much better nick than last time I saw him with his band he barrelled into the title track of their collaborative album 'Going Back Home'. A rock n roll, blues R&B, growler that Daltrey no doubt enjoyed singing when he started out and as he acknowledged "good old rock n roll - we're not killing anyone up here". It might have got a little stodgy, meat n potatoes pub rock for a song or two but it was damned enjoyable nevertheless.

When Roger forgot the lyric during a storming 'All Through the City' Wilko took over, trying not to laugh as Daltrey looked on. Throwing us his thousand yard stare, darting and diving towards Norman, he was happy to let Roger take the lead so he could relax and enjoy the moment but never letting that intensity drop. Despite seeing a roadie make sure he had a mic on a long unfurled lead, there was none of the usual windmilling actions.

"Oi Roger, play us something we recognise" says a wag behind me and Wilko is excited as a pup to strike the opening chords to 'I Can't Explain' with the audience providing the backing vocals. As they had played "everything we know" they gave another blast on the single (in 2014 - how quaint!) 'I Keep It To Myself' before leaving the stage as the whole Empire is on its feet chanting Wilko's name. Tonight he was the star as much as the little fella from the billion dollar band.


        All Right
        Barbed Wire Blues
        The More I Give
        Dr. Dupree
        When I'm Gone

        Going Back Home
        I Keep It to Myself
        Can You Please Crawl Out Your Window?
        Keep on Loving You
        Some Kind of Hero
        Ice on the Motorway
        Sneakin' Suspicion
        Everybody's Carrying a Gun
        Keep It Out of Sight
        All Through the City
        I Can't Explain
        I Keep It to Myself

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