Johnny Winter – The Grand Opera House, 22/05/09

…and in attempt to counter the disappointment of not being at Wembley on Sunday I’m taking a punt with two artistes who are unknown to me, although one does come highly recommended (by both Roj and my highly-knowledgeable colleague Phil). We’re also not at any of our usual venues – tonight it’s York’s Grand Opera House. In the Dress Circle. Seated. It’s really warm and, to my embarrassment, I find myself nodding off a couple of times.

Tonight’s support act is Ian Siegal, a British blues guitarist, with Andy Graham on bass and Nikolaj Bjerre on drums. If there’s such a thing as traditional blues, Ian comes close to playing it, to the point that I originally thought he was American. The band’s short set was a joy to listen to with some very original guitar-playing styles and an easy-going vocal style. I found it difficult to distinguish the lyrics but I think that was more down to the acoustics of the venue and unfamiliarity with the songs, rather than any deficiency on the part of the band. Bjerre’s drumming was simple yet very effective – he’s another proponent of the small drum-kit, a la Jan Akkermann’s drummer from a few weeks ago – while Graham’s style verged on humorous, with a touch of funk underlying some of the bass-lines.

The short support set was over all too quickly, but it was an almost perfect set-up for the main act.

That main act was one Johnny Winter, 65 year-old, Grammy nominated Texan Blues guitarist, and personal guitar-hero of fellow blogger, Roj. As I said, Mr Winter comes highly recommended and the more I hear of the blues, the more I like it, so tonight should be a winner.

The set starts with Johnny’s band (Paul Nelson on guitar, Scott Spray on bass and Tony Beard on drums) on stage without the main man. After a short instrumental, Johnny shuffles onto stage, looking as frail as you are ever going to see a live act. He spends the entire set sitting on a chair, playing some kind of small, cut-down version of a guitar. (I’m no expert, but I’m assuming it’s the dew-dropped shaped, headless Steinbeger, mentioned in this review which, being professional, is much better written than mine.) Apparently, it’s not just his age, but the fact that he damaged a hip while escaping a house fire a decade ago.

Anyway, while he may not be the most dynamic act I’ve ever seen, his voice is superb (like dark chocolate running over velvet when he speaks, which isn’t that often). Again, I struggled a bit with the lyrics and, not being familiar with Winter’s history or (being honest) a lot of his musical roots, I failed to spot some of the more famous tracks. Winter plays a combination of blues, rock and rock-and-roll (it’s safe to say that I’m not a huge fan of the latter) and plays then well. I have to admit, I found the small guitar to sound a bit strident and preferred it when Winter swapped to a more traditional instrument (a Firebird, I think) for the encore – it had a much cleaner sound. His was a no-nonsense performance – he introduced each song, counted it in and performed it, letting his fingers doing the talking.

From some of the shouts coming from the audience, there appeared to be some long-time fans at the gig. I suspect, but can’t be sure, that at least some of them would think that Winter was now past his best. From my point of view, as a “newbie”, he was an excellent performer, although possibly not up the standard of the recommendations I was given. Maybe it’s the case that legends have to grow, rather than being discovered. I think overall, I preferred Ian Siegal, although I wouldn’t think twice if given the opportunity to see either act again.

At the end of the gig, warm, slightly drowsy and in need of liquid sustenance, we headed off to the Roman Bath where the lasers, muscle-shirts and rocks covers of Storm, were in evidence. We’ve seen these before and they, more or less, perform the same sort of covers as most bands we see at the Bath, but they are pretty good and, although in a different class to the main gig, were a good enough way to finish off the evening.

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About Ian

Regular gig-goer in York, both to see local and touring bands. Huge music fan, with more CDs than my wife thinks any one person should own. I also collect American comics, read a lot of SF and fantasy and am a season-ticket holder at Leeds United.
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2 Responses to Johnny Winter – The Grand Opera House, 22/05/09

  1. Anthony says:

    Johnny's guitar, used during the main part of the set, was an Erlewine Lazer:http://www.erlewineguitars.com/pgs/lazer.htm

  2. IantheDruid says:

    Thanks Anthony.Told you I was no expert 🙂

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