It’s a ridiculously warm (by Belfast standards) night to be stuck inside any venue for a gig, but as venues go, this one is a bit quirky. The thoughts of feeling like you’re at a mid nineties illegal rave are never far away, such is the “bare” feel of this pop up venue. First up are Dublin two piece New Valley Wolves, who get the ever expanding crowd nodding their heads along to their bluesy rock. Belfast crowds can on occasion be notoriously difficult to get going-but such is the anticipation for this upgraded show (and maybe the refreshing drinks) that the crowd are more than (pun intended) warmed up for the headliners arrival.
Once they do, quick rattles through “Blame It On The Boom Boom” and “White Trash Millionaire” are met with rapturous applause from the near capacity crowd (the original gig sold out, and was upgraded). The sight and sound of nearly 1,000 fans singing along to every word Chris Robertson croons is all the more impressive considering this is a midweek gig. “Yeah Man” has an irresistable groove to it, which at the very least HAS to be nodded along to. The response to the vocalist’s “Did you come here to have a good time?” is pretty obvious, whilst a cover of The Wailers “Stir It Up” keeps the crowd’s energy levels up, on a night when they could very easily quickly diminish.
“Blind Man” from Folklore and Superstition, is accompanied by fists in the air, and an amazing four way vocals from the long established band. The pace remains largely relentless throughout (“In My Blood” is an exception) and although covers of Allman Brothers’ “Midnight Rider” and Hendrix’ “Foxy Lady are well received, a band with such a devoted fanbase and 7 albums to draw upon could perhaps have replaced these with a couple of originals. The reaction to the blues sounding “Bad Habit” is as enthusiastic as it is for “Maybe Someday” and suggests the majority of the fans here tonight aren’t here merely for a rattle through an expanding back catalogue.
Robertson carries off lead vocals and guitars effortlessly. Indeed if the vocalist didn’t possess such a seasoned stage presence, and bellowing voice, he would very easily be overshadowed by drummer John Fred Young. In 22 years of attending gigs encompassing many genres, I have never seen a drummer with so much energy or enthusiasm. Of course, he’s a very VERY capable drummer, otherwise these would count for very little. We’re treated to the sight of a drum solo, Animal from the Muppets never far from my mind. You do start to feel sorry for his tech, who seems to be on and off the stage throughout, adjusting (and replacing drums).
“Hoochie Coochie Man” (a Willie Dixon cover), leads us into an old favourite (and deservedly so, as it contains one of the finest riffs of the past 20 years) “Lonely Train”. Whilst the band are essentially a Southern rock band, many of the songs are heavier live than their recorded counterparts. Indeed, the array of band shirts on display tonight is the most eclectic I have memory of witnessing at a gig.
Current album title track “Family Tree” rounds off a warm, energetic night, in what starts to feel like a great venue for a gig. The band are as polished as anything else out there, and they’re clearly loving what they do-no rock star egos, no air of pretension, just 4 long term friends doing what they love, indeed the lack of encore seems quite apt-met with a collective nod of approval, rather than a mass moan.