Reviewed by Paul H Birch & Photos by Rich Ward.
Decked out in double denim, long dark covering his shoulders, one can possibly just make out a greying goatee beard. The man on stage is Alistair Green. He’s got form with the Alan Parsons Live Project and Mickey Thomas’ Starship but tonight he’s singing the blues, and we know that because when he sidles up to the microphone, the first lines he sings are: “Woke up this morning.” He’s also currently got a red Gibson SG strapped round his neck, with a capo set around the third fret, and I know it’s in an opening tuning, because he tells us that later.
Laying out a line of slide guitar and most often applying a right-handed thumb and finger plucking method, first number, ‘Walking Blues’ proves entertaining. As is, his approximately thirty-minute set, and what helps that along is his humorous asides, occasionally self-depreciative, at times referential in their fan-like febrility – The reason his guitar’s set-up the way it is, Is because he’d come across a photo of Jimmy Page on this very stage performing thus, and proves it by playing a few bars of ‘In My Time Of Dying’. Green however, has technology at hand Page didn’t, and “if it works” he tells us will play a rhythm guitar part he’s pre-recorded as he performs his next number, one inspired by “a lot of vodka and a Def Leppard concert”. This we must take his words for, though the chorus amusingly goes something along the lines of: “If I get drunk again, slap me on the side of my head!”
Round about when covid started, his record company released his most recent live album, The New World Blues, he jokes concerning copies still being on sale at the merchandising stand, but more seriously listening is called for as he plays ‘Bayou Mile’ from it – A kind of country blues come southern rock number with lovely chord changes. Next up, there’s a song about the railroads but this time we’re paying attention to his more adventurous slide work.
Changing to a sunburst Les Paul and abandoning the slide, the difference in tone on the instrument is immediately felt. Again, he applies his pre-settings, wherein he solos over a rhythm track. This sweet blues numbers suits his vocals well, his playing interacting with them. Then, standing over where Page did many decades prior, he ask us to indulge him as he plays a bar or two of ‘Whole Lotta Love’ then performs his last number, a boogie rock tune, that’s bright and cheery in its delivery. Not that that’s the last we’ll see of Mr Green tonight.
Some thirty minutes later, Walter Trout and his band amble on stage and even as his sidemen are setting up, Mr T is off and running, soloing away. They catch up, a riff ensues, the bass player’s upfront depresses a foot pedal and starts pumping away on the stomping 12 bar blues of ‘I Can Tell’. More solos entail, chiefly from Trout, as we works the stage, but we get one on organ early on too. With a great roar to his voice on the last verse, the final six string attack is particularly flashy as he races across his cream Stratocaster’s fretboard, and bites deep before reaching the number’s climax.
With piano tinkling while more elongated slides and squeals are pulled into action, he calls out “How’s everyone doing there tonight?” the response positive, he declares: “Let’s have some fun tonight!” and that’s just what it looks like they’re having up on stage, and the crowd get their money’s worth in return. For those like myself, not overly familiar with his back catalogue, for the first few numbers we must gauge, navigate and try to appreciate all at once what the set-up is here with regards to Trout’s modus operandi live. Certainly, you do not come to them if you don’t like guitar solos. Second number ‘Walkin’ In The Rain’ over, we’re asked “Who feels like rocking tonight?” and the audience is soon clapping along to a hard rocking blues rendition of ‘Wanna Dance’.
Trout is decked out in blue with jeans, short-sleeved shirt, waistcoat, all crowned by an ever-present hat, his guitar is slung over the one shoulder and it looks a little awkward, but a little later on we’ll get to see how that works for him in the way he applies some of his aural tricks. He’s got a new keyboard player in Richard T Bear, who’s previously played with the likes of Crosby, Still & Nash – a big guy, dark hair running down over his shoulders, matching beard and shades – here in a city that’s not seen a week without rain all year. Fellow new member Jacob Renlov is perched at the back, similarly with extravagantly long hair, this time brown, but also wearing shades. Bass player Johnny Griparic’s apparently been with Trout some time, and also played alongside guitarists like Slash and Richie Kotzen, there’s definitely a more biker rock look about him, not least the tattoos, but more wicked still in his subtle but stylistic right hand playing and the way he prowls the stage. Joining them for this number on guitar, then on and off through the set is Andrew Elt, who looks like he might belong in Styx but whose legs constantly dance and strut and jigger like Keef Richards in his prime.
“I’m 72 but I still like rocking, man!” Trout declares after the song’s concluded. He then relates meeting B.B. King in a record store, and how the blues giant spent an hour talking to him, putting him on the career path he’s stuck to since, with stints with John Mayall, Canned Heat and some 30 albums of his own since. He dedicates ‘Say Goodbye To The Blues’ to his hero, working the full length of his guitar’s neck on this pure wailing slow blues. Near the song’s conclusion, away from the mic, he sings with a mantra like delivery, before it does indeed reach its climax.
A troubled childhood with a violent alcoholic stepfather, Trout himself is 35 years sober now, and on reflecting on a poem he’d written when 10, began to compose the title track to last year’s hit album, Ride – The song that follows draws me in a listener, lyrically it has a story to tell, brimming with imagery of times gone by and the dreams of better times ahead rather than the images of blissful golden summers so often painted nostalgically in song, and yet the music is not downbeat, swirling charismatically with that classic Midwest rock of yesteryear moving on down south as bluesier soling takes place, with different textures of sound felt within the actual playing here. It’s at this point, where I connect with what Walter Trout is about today; the somewhat ungainly posturing of his large frame is not a million miles removed from Neil Young, and while the music’s been different, the same independent spirit is present and with this song it resonates. The fans give this number their loudest applause yet.
Keeping it current, from the same album, first we get Ghosts’, a crunchy harder-driven blues rocker live than on record, wherein once more Trout looks back over his shoulder at the past theatically. For rhythm section lovers, we also note that Griparic applies a wah-wah pedal to his bass during one section of the song, and the whole thing concludes with not one but two drum roll trips round his kit by Renlov. Elt is back on stage for the next number, ‘Follow You Back Home’, and again musically the arrangement holds strong, atmospheric throughout, backing harmony vocals added by band members, with a couple of guitar solos featured, the first more emotionally stirring, the latter played out with force and rage, on a song that deals with his inner demons and where he finds solace from them.
We’re told the next number’s “gonna get funky in the middle”, though the loud and in-yer-face blues boogie of ‘I Worry Too Much’ may not initially have you thinking that, but the keyboard solo is where we get that aspect, on another new number that recites the atrocities of the world news but does so with black humour. Then, with Elt having left the stage and returning guest Alistair Green taking the first guitar solo (Trout taking his hat off expressing the guitarist’s hot stuff) and extended jam going back and forth is offered with ‘We’re All In This Together’.
“That was fun!” the main man declares after they’ve finished, so much so he tells us instead of the planned ballad for the set, they’re going to rock out on ‘Playin’ Hideaway’, with an impressively vocal response from the crowd singing along and clapping.
The modern performer tends to wear their heart on their sleeves, as influencers marketing some brand or other that we might sigh at, bored; those who’ve recovered from lives of drug and alcohol dependency we can sympathise, possibly relate to, but if they preach perhaps try our patience. Trout tells how he spent eight months in hospital and a liver transplant saved his life, and is but two weeks shy of a nine-year anniversary of that date. Then, just as I think he’s about to give us the born-again talk, he announces the reason he was kept alive was to tell us to be better humanitarians and sign up for organ doner cards. I smile, pleased how he’s turned this into into a real positive, while saving your blushes by not repeating the hilarious expletives delivered as part of his little chit-chat.
With distorted power chords and a deep-ended rhythm section, they launch into a number called ‘Red Sun’ where the band members are introduced, everyone taking a solo, and much romping round the stage, before bringing the main event to its conclusion. Then, returning for a single encore, there’s a six-strong line-up on stage with both Elt and Green packing guitars alongside Trout, for a rocking version of ‘Bullfrog Blues’ – The spirit of Rory Gallagher who performed that number several times on this stage looking down and hopefully wearing a big grin, though the rendition owes more to Chuck Berry than his own hoary blues rendition. Each of the guitarists take a solo, and they’re back into one last trip round the verse and chorus, before Trout tips calling out “That’s it goodnight!” as they take a collective bow, leaving a stage where many a legend has played bare.
From the reception elicited by his fans gathered here tonight, Walter Trout has certainly kept up his end of the bargain as an entertaining force of nature, and for me I’m most suitably impressed by the songsmith skills evidenced on tracks from his most recent Ride album.