Usually, when the tables, various pieces of seating and candles are out in The Duchess it means a quiet, intimate gig. That fact that they are in place for tonight’s Aynsley Lister gig suggests more of a method of spreading out the crowd a bit, making the venue look a little fuller. After all, Lister may not be an out-and-out rocker but his Blues performance, while at times dropping in volume and intensity, could hardly be said to be quiet, even if there is sometimes a feeling of intimacy to it. Glancing around during and after the gig, though, there are plenty of people standing behind and to the sides of the furniture and, if anything, I would say that there are more people in attendance this time then when I saw him play the same venue almost exactly two years ago.
Lister himself commented on the apparent size of the crowd but I can’t interpret what he said from my notes. I did note that the audience were polite, though, as they responded to a “Good evening,” from him. He and his band opened with an instrumental track during which the rhythm section reduced their part in order to let Lister’s guitar and André Bassing’s keyboards breathe. Three tracks from the new album – the title track Home, the livelier Broke and Inside Out, with its sparse guitar opening – were followed by Soundman, one of the first songs he wrote. It is possibly his most traditional Blues song and should be required listening to for some bands who think that loud is best, if only for the message it contains. Then it was back to the latest release for Impossible, in which guitar and keyboard combined for a “chunkier” sound. The first half of tonight’s gig ended with Lister and Bassing playing off each other during an instrumental that had the feel of a jam session, with the latter’s keyboards sharing equal billing during the track, as they seem to do for much of the set.
During the break in the set Lister spent a few minutes alone on stage, tuning an as yet unused acoustic guitar, as the Duchess’ staff took the opportunity to rearrange the microphones around the drum kit and to swap the filters some of the lights for some a little bit more subtle.
The band returned with another seemingly effortless instrumental, this time encompassing a number of musical styles before the acoustic guitar was brought into play for Hyde 2612, a song inspired by the Life On Mars TV series. It started out with a simple, foot-tapping rhythm but got increasingly lively and featured yet another superb instrumental section. This was followed by a track Lister admitted that the band don’t normally play and whose title I (rather unhelpfully) didn’t hear. During it, each band member was given their own time in the spotlight, not so much given solos but allowed to come to the fore in individual sections. Not for the first time during the evening the impression was of a jam session. “We’re going to play you a bit of Blues,” announced Lister before guitar and keyboard played off each other again during a cover of Freddie King’s I’m Tore Down and then it was time for my favourite track, the lovely Early Morning Dew. According to the lyrics taking in the morning air makes Lister smile. The song itself makes me smile. After one more song the band left the stage. “Not bad,” said my somewhat understating gig buddy. I pointed out to him that we had yet to hear Lister’s version of Purple Rain that I had been waxing lyrical about earlier. “Oh, yeah,” he replied, just as the band returned to the stage, “I won’t last ten minutes, though, will it?” he asked checking how far we were off the advertised finish time. Well, it did (just about) and it was probably the only song of the evening in which Lister’s guitar came fully to the fore. In the lead up to the almost inevitable instrumental guitar section, the contributions from the rest of the band dropped almost right off, then slowly built up until suddenly bursting back into life for the evening’s superb denouement.