James Oliver Band
Henry’s Blueshouse 3rd Jan 2013
We are well used to James dexterity in guitar playing but Tuesday’s gig at Henry’s Blueshouse in Birmingham was almost on another level. The riffing between bass player Patrick Farrell and James on guitar was mesmerising. Clearly, unplanned, the call and response from one player to another was as astonishing to watch as to listen to; a version of Hootchie Cootchie Man not heard before. Mark Kemlo on drums, who, as has been said elsewhere, can really swing, looking completely unruffled (most of the time) played with old style solidity switching from brushes to sticks to timpani mallets.
False endings have become audience favourites, as have false starts, sometimes intended to keep the audience guessing and sometimes as a result of last second switches to the repertoire because James suddenly thinks a different song would fit the mood. A cracking version of Dr Feelgood’s Roxette got the dancers up and the “surfing” faves Walk Don’t Run and Apache had the feet tapping. The set list included blues shuffles, James’ twang standards (as mentioned), own-penned material including a Chuck Berry inspired ditty about a chicken and Elvis material (My Baby Left Me from the Sun era).
Patrick’s bass solo with Mark’s insistent back beat and subsequent drum solo set a groove that could have gone on much longer before James swooped back in with blistering riffs on an old Bill Haley number appropriately named Goofin’ Around, with fingers racing up and down the frets in a manner rarely seen before. Although he denied it, he has clearly been learning new techniques, including some bewildering (in the right way) playing with harmonics (you know what it is when you hear it) and with his right hand up on the fretboard over his left. A broken string early on the set had James gradually unravelling it whilst continuing to play. Was he going to change a string whilst playing? Well, James has played his guitar using a towel, so anything is possible but it was not to be and Martin Burch (in the audience) happily replaced the string whilst the big Welshman switched to playing slide on his SG for the next few songs.
In between the frantic (and occasionally mellow) playing, much good natured banter between the band members and the audience made the evening thoroughly enjoyable, A truly great show. Truly a great band and an astonishing performer in James himself.