by Alissa Ordabai
– Senior Columnist —
November 28, 2013 at Shepherd’s Bush Empire in London, U.K. —
Some concerts take off after a song or two, some — toward the middle, some – just before the encore. And some abduct you and transport you from the word go. This is how Joanne Shaw Taylor opens her whopper of a show this evening. The thumping pulse of “Soul Station” sets the vibe right off the bat and keeps it relentless for the next two hours. Hair flying, guitar neck pointing to the ceiling, and a space-rocking groove whipping up one punchy guitar line after another – this is how you kick things off when you have it boiling in you. Then the solo lifts this blues-rock stomper into the stratosphere and you know the lady is out for a kill this evening.
Three things grab you at once: the volatile energy beaming from such a svelte young woman, the raw emotion of her voice, and the ferocity with which she commands her Les Paul. From full-bodied roar to shrill screams, the guitar keeps flashing new tonal colors turn after turn. The magnetic tension between the voice and the guitar expands and contracts, but the rhythm section keeps the proceedings clockwork solid. Say thank you to drummer Bruce Guttridge and bassist Joseph Veloz. But also to the transparent lucidity of the keyboardist Jools Grudgings who is not only Taylor’s co-conspirator, but a man of great finesse and taste.
The highs and the lows, the tension and release stretch into a latitude wide enough to build your own universe. This is what Taylor does, and this is where you find yourself, breathing along with the show’s pace – wherever it takes you. Cuttingly ominous standout “Almost Always Never” goes deep within and at the same time flings the door wide open. This gift for relaying intimately personal yet universal truths distinguishes world-class artists from niche acts: the braver you are in your candor, the wider appeal you have.
But the further the show goes, the more treasures you catch: the ever-changing nuances of Taylor’s singing voice, the constantly expanding palette of her guitar tone, and the big and the small gems of her solos, which, of course, become entire journeys on their own. Few people in rock (unless they are instrumental performers) solo as extensively as JST does these days. But then again, she never ever cared for what was “in” or “fashionable”. You’d get a whiff of Jimmy Page’s “No Quarter” vibe at one moment, then an echo of Paul Kossoff the next, but these little nods strengthen her roots without dictating her character, which remains distinctly unique.
Awe-struck punters in Steve Vai t-shirts, blues connoisseurs, musicians, and regular guys spontaneously yelling out from their seats “Will you marry me?” all felt buzzed. Even the bar staff had their eyes glued to the stage, dancing, and taking pictures when they weren’t serving. You don’t have to know much — or anything at all — about the blues to become taken in. You only have to be alive. Without chasing trends or bowing to the demands of the industry Joanne Shaw Taylor sounds so spontaneously classic precisely by realizing her natural self.
Joanne Shaw Taylor’s live album and DVD Songs from the Road was released in November 2013.
Photographs by Stephen Fourie.
1. Soul Station
2. Beautifully Broken
3. Watch ‘Em Burn
4. Just Another Word
5. Jealousy (Frankie Miller cover)
6. You Should Stay, I Should Go
7. Let It Burn
8. Jump That Train
9. Almost Always Never
10. The World and Its Way
11. Same As It Never Was
12. Kiss the Ground Goodbye
13. Time Has Come
14. Manic Depression (Jimi Hendrix cover)
15. Diamonds in the Dirt
16. Tied and Bound