Kenny Wayne Shepherd - LIVE: Shepherd's Bush Empire, London 2015

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Goin' Home Tour
April 11 (20:15 - 22:45)
Capacity 2000

For the UK leg of his wider European tour, young Englishman Ben Poole joined Kenny Wayne Shepherd and his band at Shepherd's Bush Empire for an evening of raucous southern style blues.

Although still young, Ben Poole has been around on the UK blues scene for a while now, and is usually met with encouraging praise, though yet to get his breakthrough, his new Live At The Albert Hall release, his first on a label, could be the start of it. Two tracks into his set, and it was already clear that the man is a talented guitarist, and has assembled a band of equally talented musicians. The highlights of the set included the opener Let's Go Upstairs alongside the funky Stay At Mine. Unfortunately the weakest part of Poole's performance was actually his voice, which at times felt somewhat forced. There could still be a promising future for the young man, but the vocal performance and lack of strong stage present may be what is really holding him back.

Kenny Wayne Shepherd however, couldn't be more different. Looking and playing like he'd just received an electric shock, the Louisiana native threw around his punchy blues from the first minute to the last minute of the show. Opening with Never Lookin' Back the band then ploughed head first into a relentless number of songs, including Everything Is Broken, King's Highway and Heat of The Sun. The band also littered covers of The Stooges' Search And Destroy and Stevie Ray Vaughan's The House Is Rocking throughout the set. The inclusion of the SRV number was rather fitting, given that Shepherd's current drummer is Chris Layton of SRV's Double Trouble. Riley Osbourn, formerly of Willie Nelson's band, also joined Shepherd on keys, along with Tony Franklin on bass and the ever-present Noah Hunt on vocals. Throughout the set it becomes increasingly clear that the real driving force behind the band is Kenny, Layton and Osbourn. Although Franklin and Hunt obviously contribute, compared to the other members of the band they don't quite emit the same aura or stage presence and at times look a little awkward and unsettled. Layton and Osborne on the other hand didn't even break a sweat.

Towards the end of Shepherd's set, every track became a blues master class. Everything from Looking Back onwards seemed to take on a life of it's own, with the band really feeding off the energy of the crowd. During the stand-out moment of While We Cry the audience listening so intently that the sound of Kenny picking the strings could almost be heard from the back of the room. A medley of BB King tracks also saw some of the best playing of the evening, with a long jam that peacocked the talent of Osborne and Shepherd. It was almost as though these numbers were the turning point of the evening, the point at which both the band and the crowd came together in one respect of the blues. Previous criticism of Shepherd has seen the guitarist named a 'Stevie clone' or other similar labels. While there's certainly an obvious influence there, that's not really what Shepherd is about. Instead Kenny and his band are like a gospel for blues. They serve their audiences authentic blues with a real heritage, and are there to enjoy the music just as much as the audience. The fact that people were literally dancing and skipping around the balconies is a testimony in itself to this.

By the end of the evening Shepherd's band showed that rock also flows through their veins. Finishing with a thunderous cover of Oh Well into Voodoo Child (Slight Return), Hunt flicked devil horns while Shepherd's strat screamed liked a tortured animal. The two encores got the biggest response of the night, though that's hardly surprising, considering how much the English love the blues rock standards. Regardless of whether it's a rendition of a classic blues number, or a harder blues rock cover, Shepherd and his band pulled off every track with an infectious energy. But the real strength of their show, and arguably the most enjoyable moments, lies in the fact that they offer a sermon of the genre to audiences.

“ every track became a blues masterclass ”

Setlist: Never Lookin' Back / Everything Is Broken / The House Is Rocking / King's Highway / True Lies / Search And Destory / Heat of The Sun / Talk To Me Baby / Deja Voodoo / Born With A Broken Heart / Looking Back / Woke Up This Morning (My Baby's Gone) / You Done Lost Your Good Thing Now / Ain't A Boy No More / While We Cry // Blue On Black / I'm A King Bee / Oh Well / Voodoo Child (Slight Return)

Written by James Abel
More: 2015, Blues, Gigs,

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