We thoroughly enjoyed the gig at The Stables Milton Keynes last night which featured Virgil & The Accelerators supporting Joanne Shaw Taylor’s band. A blues-rock evening par excellence in almost all respects. In this review I will give my impressions of the gig, the venue and perfromance. I do indulge in ratings or other rankings but this has to be for me one of the best gigs of the year.
Virgil are a young power trio as it might once have been called but with a bluesier edge. Their roots are clear with renditions of Hendrix and SRV material and extended workouts within their own son
They played for at least half an hour but like all good times it seemed shorter. The packed audience responded well and no doubt the boys’ post-gig merch sales reflected this. That is one of the good things about The Stables, the audience are true fans of live music (yes folks there are a lot of those around MK despite rumours to the contrary) and will pay attention to the support (usually one) as much as the headliners.
After another pint of Murphys (not the cheapest in town and the bar was busy but the beer was smooth and tasty plus you are allowed to take your glass into the theatre, a civilised bunch at the Stables). We all ambled our way back in to resume our seats stage left.
The anticipation was as they say palpable and soon enough it was time for the clocks to speed up when the lady herself took the stage. Well, it is not really a stage as it is only a foot off the floor but the amphitheatre of the venue gives nearly everyone a good view.
I think they must have been having some technical “issues” because the first few numbers we could hardly hear her guitar. The mix was fine for fans of electric organ but we had come to hear JST sing her powerful songs and most of all twang the hell out of her various guitars. But by song three her distinctive soul-blues notes were coming through better and we could relax and enjoy nearly 90 minutes of electric blues courtesy of her five piece.
There are very few rock histrionics to report other than passionate, sincere and intense delivery of her own songs and one or two covers - their rendition of Manic Depression was a highlight of course. As with Virgil and his boys, the song was taken to new places and given thorough wringing out before returning to the song’s moody basics. Twinges of sadness there too because the last time we had heard that tune on a stage in MK it was the Hamsters’ farewell gig.
She had a few problems with tuning in the middle of the set but those did not stop her providing very fine renditions of what are becoming her own standards blending well with her new material - the new album (Almost Always Never) getting a few plugs. As with most of these young Brit blues practitioners, one wonders what life has taught them to be able to write songs with such angst and passion as platforms for their guitar virtuosity. Mistake you not, this gal really has the chops, in fact it makes you wonder how one person can pack in so much talent and come across as vulnerable and yet at other times so confident and joyous in her work. Her short history has taken her world over and brought support-slots-to-die-for such as with Joe Bonamassa so she certainly has paid her dues. We first set eyes on her on that stage a few years ago as part of the Blues Caravan tour. This precious wallflower only got one number of her own but that was a stand out of the gig. We said then we wanted to see her again with her own band so last night was a wish come true.
As we came to the end we were sent to bed with a rendition of one of my fave electric blues numbers, Freddie King’s Goin’ Down. For this she invited Virgil to return and what followed was a pyrotechnic and intense duel almost. Their smiles revealed just how much fun they were having as they traded licks.
The audience were very keen for more and the encore featured two of her own numbers in a perfect end to the show. Personally, while I like her impassioned workouts she is blessed with a voice that carries much power in some of the quieter moments.
I think on reflection new songs such as Jealousy were my highlights of the evening. Maybe if could have had a wish then a short acoustic interlude as per Aynsley Lister would come mid-set. Sometimes less is more and I think nearly all her album stuff is electric so her playing acoustic and her incredible voice filling the theatre would have been icing on the delicious cake.
Before I conclude this lengthy diatribe let’s have a little mild criticism. Thank you for reading down this far and I promise to be gentle. The bands were almost without fault and we enjoyed them immensely but it is the setting I have less enthusiasm for. It was maybe a tad too loud at times but we are talking of live rock here and I have heard louder elsewhere.
But my main criticism concerns the visuals; as with several other rock gigs I have been to at the Stables, the lighting is insufficiently used. The rig is comprehensive but under-played with the performers bathed in only white light most of the time. Having enjoyed the spectacular true rock lighting at the Pitz so many times these bands deserve better. My preference would always be for standing too, Comfy seats are OK for comedy and “serious” music but not for rock IMHO.
Performers there have told me that despite the apparent intimacy (the front row is only a metre from the stage and there are no barriers) they cannot see much of the audience so feedback is largely by applause etc only.
Live rock is a special experience, it is my opinion that to be at its best the band and audience must fully interact. This creates a surge of collective emotion never to be found in any other context. The people turn up and the band take them on an emotional journey which can be intense and in some cases frightening. This is the real reason to attend gigs, to plug into that collective energy. The very best gigs are such as these and not just an “I play, you watch” experience.
Overall, this was a memorable gig and amongst the best of the year for me. One of the others has to be Oli Brown at the same venue. It has not been a great year for gigs in the wasteland for nocturnal live rock that MK stands in peril of becoming but there are gems if you look hard enough. Roy Szweda October 2012