The ABC 2 holds 200 people easily. Tonight it had 50 people tops in there for Simo, Aaron Keylock, and Federal Charm. This may well have something to do with Alter Bridge playing just down the road…
Adam Abrashoff, Elad Shapiro, and JD Simo make up the Nashville-based blues rock power trio, Simo. Following in the footsteps of such great trios like Cream, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and Mountain, they produce a sound akin to Cream jamming with the Allman Brothers. For three guys, they really make quite a huge sound. Simo’s fuzzy guitar, and a thick, lumbering bass, collide with crashing drums as JD howls into the mic. It’s raw, emotive garage blues, replete with wailing guitar solos that pulse and mutate into a psychedelic jazz blues jam session. Abrashoff’s drums got faster and more intense as he thundered his way through to a gentle wind down, to much applause. JD took centre stage and, unaided by a mic, moaned the blues, acapella, whilst thumping the mic stand on the stage. It was haunting, full of mojo, and reminded me of Son House’s “Grinning In Your Face”, before they returned to the meat of the song, and it’s conclusion, which is a crescendo of crashing drums and screaming feedback. Eight minutes on stage, and one song in, they had stuck their flag in the ground and claimed the night as their own. Simo wasted no time, and got right into the next number; a hefty jam, complete with a dollop of funk and some dripping wah wah guitar. For a band that has only been on the go since 2010 (Shapiro only joining the band in 2015) they have the chemistry of a band that has been jamming for decades. Adam and Elad never play it safe as a rhythm section, and constantly ebb and flow, making the music a living, breathing thing, never sounding the same. It’s the perfect playground for JD’s impressive guitar chops. It was some of the most intense soloing I’ve heard this year. Shapiro was no slouch on the bass either, not just providing the low-end thump, he ventured right up to the dusty end of the fretboard for some nice melodic touches. Abrashoff delighted us with an utterly immense drum solo that got the blood pumping and the head spinning. Before they left us with a final song, JD addressed the crowd: “We hope you leave here feeling a little better than you did when you came in”. The set closer, “Be With You” began as a beautiful, soulful ballad, with a sparse, Stax style guitar and Simo’s borderline Joe Cocker-esque vocals, before morphing into a heavy, stomping, slow rocker, and back into a refrain so quiet you could hear a pin drop. Simo turned down his guitar, and we were suddenly in BB King/SRV “Lenny” territory. The crowd was dead silent, mesmerised by the three guys creating this beautiful music. Once again, the volume went up, the thunder cracked, and JD pulled another belter of a solo off. This time going full ‘Hendrix’, and playing with his teeth. I haven’t seen a Gibson ES-335 guitar attacked like that since Marty McFly played the “Enchantment Under The Sea Dance”! And with that, they left. Forty-five minutes of incredible blues rock, and all without playing a single song from their current album! That took balls, and they pulled it off!Image by Liz Aiken
It was only last month that I saw Aaron Keylock supporting Joanne Shaw Taylor, and I had good things to say about him and his band. Tonight, he was already on stage and ripping through a guitar solo by the time I stepped in from a wee break outside. You’d have to feel sorry for anyone that followed what we just bore witness to, but Keylock did his very best. The band were tight, and Aaron’s soloing was on fire. Unfortunately, tonight his vocals were a bit of a let-down. Where previously he channelled Chris Robinson, his singing seemed a bit flat this time. This is my only gripe about this rising blues star. He took the time to engage with the crowd, and worked his way through songs from his upcoming release. I don’t think we’ve seen the best from Keylock yet, though. He will only improve with age, and that will certainly help with song writing material.Image by Liz Aiken
Manchester blues rock outfit Federal Charm took to the stage in pitch black darkness before launching into their first number. The bass was overpowering, and the guitars were very quiet. It sounded a mess. From the off, there was plenty of rock star posturing, but sadly, none of the songs to go with it. At best, they were forgettable blues rock numbers, with less emphasis on the blues. For the most part of their set, there was a guy on stage, filming. It was distracting, and had guitarist, Paul Bowe, spending a lot of the time posturing for the camera, with his back to everyone. Don’t get me wrong, they can play, but I just found it all a bit flat and boring after the intense musical trip Simo took us on. The vocals were okay, and their fans lapped it up. It just wasn’t to my taste. Even when their cameraman wasn’t on stage, Bowe constantly looked round for him and not where his paying customers were. Before the night was through, a number of the crowd have voted with their feet and left, leaving only true fans at the stage. There’s time left for Bowe to climb up some PA and leap off. So rock ‘n’ roll…. Yawn.
The trouble with tours with rotating line ups, is at some point, the best act on the bill will open for the weakest, and sadly, that’s what happened tonight.
Review: Colin Plumb