We were heading to Exeter for another mid week show at The Phoenix Arts Centre, having done a few of these lately, I’ve been pleasantly surprised by the amount of people heading down for some quality live music in the very relaxed, laid back surroundings that the venue has to offer.
We’d been busy heavily ‘tweeting’ about this show and were keen to catch Joanne Shaw Taylor in the flesh, having only heard her on CD’s before, could her voice REALLY be that good, does she make those guitars make the sounds that were coming from the speakers? All would very soon be revealed….
Kicking off the evening were Manchester based blues rockers Federal Charm, we knew nothing of this lively bunch until they strode onto the stage and kicked into their opening track ‘Masterplan’, in the space of a couple of minutes, I was nodding along to their brilliant mix of bluesy rock.
‘Guess What’ is a new track, lifted from their forthcoming long player ‘Across the Divide’ and was chock full of Led Zep style guitar licks and a driving beat that helped make it such an infectious track. They played a blinding number called ‘Somebody Help Me’ from their debut release, this featured a superb guitar solo which had the audience in raptures.
If you’re looking for a new band to check out, you could do far worse than getting your mitts on a copy of their new album which is available from October 2nd. Keep an eye on these guys, I think they’re going to explode pretty soon and the days of catching them at a smaller, more intimate venues are definitely numbered.
The room was filling up nicely, the male/female split was approximately 90/10 though I did see a few ‘blues chicks’ out there in the audience who had come to rock out to the main act. I also saw a bunch of kids on the front row, I love it when parents make the effort and get the kids along to live music events rather than letting them suffer in front of X-Factor and any other ‘TV Talent’ shows that just seem to breed vacuous celebrity wanabees who sell their souls in exchange for their 15 minutes of fame, oh yes, they were in for a treat tonight!
Stood behind a quiver of guitars, I could see the headstocks of a couple of Gibson Les Paul’s along with the Fender Telecaster that I have seen her use on a couple of videos that I had checked out prior to the show.
JST took to the stage and immediately set the scene for the evening by launching into ‘Mud Honey’ which is the opening track from her latest album ‘The Dirty Truth’, just how guitarists can play without looking at the fretboard has always intrigued me, I guess I’m also trying to fathom how they can sing and play at the same time as every time I try, my voice tends to follow the notes that the guitar is spitting out, safe to say, that I’m NO singer/guitarist, unlike JST who quite clearly IS!
Up next was 'Outlaw Angel', again, lifted from her recent release, this was more of a bluesy stomper which really showcased Jo's dusky, smoky trademark vocals that she's renowned for, it also introduced her ability to shred that neck within an inch of its life....
Jo splits her time across America and England and mentioned how good it was to be back in the UK, she even devoured a Sunday roast (on Monday) and commented that this is how she rolls, proper rock n' roll! If I were Jo, I'd go the extra mile and have a Sunday roast on a Monday morning just to push the boat out into 'crazy territory'!
'Tried, Tested and True' was written after a relationship ended and Jo mentioned that it was one of the more 'honest' tracks from the new record, her voice during this heartfelt, emotional song reminded me of the legendry R&B/Soul singer Macy Gray. The tempo taken right down, allowing for some amazing guitar to float effortlessly over the slight backbeat andmellow bass, whilst Jo opened her heart, allowing her feelings to pour through.
'Jump That Train' kicked things up a gear, her voice full of fire, the driving beats and bass were relentless, allowing her to overlay her quality guitar skills which by now had the audience watching every string bend and harmonic with the look of a young child enjoying a firework display.
A short break ensued whilst Jo tuned her guitar, to break the silence she uttered the words "I tune because I care about you" which resulted in comments being thrown back on stage such as "don't worry, we're not in London, we're laid back in Exeter", spoken in the broadest Devonshire accent I've heard for a long time!
Next up was the title track from her 2010 album ‘Diamonds in the Dirt’ which she said was written after realizing that sometimes good things come from bad situations. Mixing things up a bit, she took a seat and looked for her acoustic guitar, it was there earlier on in the evening and now appeared to not be…..the drummer and bass guitarist went in search of it and found it backstage! She played a really emotional track which she wrote at the time her mum was diagnosed with cancer, ‘Almost Always Never’ was flawless, her smooth dusky vocals sounding sublime over the gentle tone of her acoustic guitar, absolutely captivating stuff.
A later track took you through a 12 bar blues journey, a classic bassline and 4/4 beat with Jo producing some amazing bluesy, soulful vocals, building slowly until it reached a peak with an ear splitting, string bending solo that would have made Eddie Van Halen stop in his tracks. Her voice sounding more reminiscent now of the late Janis Joplin, gravelly and coarse but still so fascinating to listen to.
‘Going Home’ was the last track in her set and boy did she set the stage alight with it, it was oozing classic rock n’ roll and judging by the looks of the fans faces, was just what they wanted to close the evening with. The band left the stage leaving a hungry crowd who clearly wanted a second helping!
They took to the stage once again where Jo introduced a song that she wrote about shooting her lover (obviously a fictional song!) and launched into ‘The Dirty Truth’ with its rolling guitar riff and driving beats this was just the track to kick off the encore, I think she did actually play 2 songs for her encore but the set list I managed to grab a picture of had the last track obscured by gaffer tape, so accept my apologies for not being more accurate.
After the show, Jo spent a good half hour at the merch table, signing CD's, posing for selfies and chatting to everyone who stood in line to meet her, it's so easy to just hole yourself up in the dressing room, flip the top on a bottle of Jack and ignore the rest of the world, Jo obviously believes in looking after her fans and they lover her for it!
This was the first time I have seen Jo play and play she most certainly did, she played a scorching set that spanned her career, tracks from as far back as 2009 made the list and covered a range of emotions and topics along the way. Jo is on tour in the UK until the end of October when she leaves our shores for a few dates in Norway, France and Ireland prior to finishing up with a gig at the ‘Rockstock’ event in Trecco Bay (South Wales) alongside such greats as FM, Rival Sons and The Darkness. For more information and tickets, head over to her website best get a move on as the dates are selling fast with a few sold out already!
Review by Steve Muscutt
Pics courtesy of © Matt Roffe Photography