Review by Paul Broome
How do you write a review of a gig with this level of importance? There have been gigs and tours of significance before, but usually it’s not until after the event that the significance is attributed. This was always going to be a different situation, the farewell tour from which there could be no reunion. Contrary to my wishes, as the day of the gig drew closer I found myself feeling more and more upset about it. But that air of depression was lifted the moment Wilko strode briskly out on stage, black and red Telecaster and a beaming smile at the ready.
Earlier the enviable support slot had been taken by Eight Rounds Rapid, a young band from Essex who pay an obvious debt to their regional forebears Dr. Feelgood – vocalist David Burke even has the look of a young Lee Brilleaux (although his staccato vocal delivery has more than a little John Cooper Clarke about it), and in Simon Johnson they have a young edgy gunslinger of a blues guitarist who has clearly learnt a trick or two from his dad. They have a raw sound, and a great set of songs and they certainly won over the crowd tonight – leaving behind their fair share of blood and sweat on the stage (literally in the case of Johnson, whose Telecaster seemed to be having a cheese grater effect on his fingers). As the old adage goes, one to watch.
I have never, and will never again, hear a crowd of 700 roar the way they roared Wilko Johnson onto the stage tonight. This was not a gig, this was a rollercoaster, a 90 minute thrill ride. The audience hollered and cheered as Wilko duck-walked and machine gun strafed the front rows with his Tele, they screamed when they wanted Norman (Watt-Roy) and Dylan (Howe) to go faster. From the opening bars of ‘All Through The City’ to the set-closing mighty double-header of ‘Back In The Night’ and ‘She Does It Right’ the only emotion on display on both the stage and in the audience is one of heady elation. All dark thoughts were banished by the joy on the faces of all three performers, Wilko especially.
Banter was limited, as has always been his wont, Wilko let the music do the talking and the set list seemed to generate itself – ‘Dr. Dupree’, ‘Roxette’, ‘Sneaking Suspicion’, ‘The Western Plains’ , a particularly emphatic and sprawling 15-minute rendition of ‘Don’t Let Your Daddy Know’ (complete with all the usual intimacy between Wilko and his much-loved instrument) – a confident reminder of one man’s catalogue of quality.
As a guitarist, getting the chance to watch the way Wilko plays at such close quarters was a real eye opener for me – incredible dexterity, speed, attack and poise. As a music-lover tonight reminded me of everything that is important about music, and live music especially. It’s not about ego, it’s not about cool – it’s about positivity, joy, elation, taking the shit that this world throws at us and turning it into something beautiful that lifts the spirit, energises the body and soothes the soul.
It wasn’t until the encore (a beautiful extended version of ‘Bye Bye Johnny’) and Wilko’s customary waving goodbye to the crowd during the chorus that the gravity of the night descended again and the real world peered viciously through the curtain. But there were no tears, this wasn’t a night for sadness, this was a night to celebrate the man and to say for one last time “Thank You Wilko”.
Pure genius, a generous soul, one of a kind, and a national treasure that at least has got to know just how much we all appreciate him while he’s still with us.