The Dirt Road Band live at The Arches

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The Dirt Road Band live at The Arches


One of the phenomena I experience with live reviewing is to enjoy the moment (and why not?) and then have subsequent reflection suggest bigger patterns and significance to me.

So it was with the Dirt Road Band gig last night.

It's quite easy with bands deploying this much talent, experience & integrity to paint oneself into a corner with an early review & then down the line really just have much the same things to say regarding their individual & collective virtuosity, enthusiasm and love of what they are doing.

Thankfully, as you'll know from recent posts, Steve, Horace & Ted have been recording original music lately and this gives me a fresh writing angle.

In fact the first point it gives me is quite amusing: although I've reviewed individually released tracks, the entire album (‘Righteous')  is in fact pressed & ready (I'm itching to publish reviews of the tracks not yet covered) but not yet green lighted for sale: and for the most twenty first century of reasons, relating to setting up electronic payment processes. While John Lee Hooker would not have had this problem, his generation of course were robbed blind of the money their talent deserved.

The support was the James Oliver Band from Wales: Steve really rates James' guitar playing (and judging by comments from the other members, that feeling is not unique to him) and in fact he guests on ‘Righteous'. That said, I thought their drummer was exceptional too. A quirky R & B group, they brought Johnny Moped to my mind.....

When it came to the headline set though, this was my first DRB gig where their own material dominated (Steve's solo "Instinct to Survive" has really been the only self penned song that I've heard them play before): in fact more than half the album put in an appearance and nearly half the numbers performed were their own.

This is what you might call a paradigm shift & although the playing & energy levels were sky high as ever, there was a certain something about the band: almost as if they had now truly "arrived" as an act.

To be as high a class band as they've always been, but one essentially covering the work of others is one very creditable thing, but to be able to express your identity with your own material sets them up where they deserve to be: and these three musicians draw crowds based in  part on their distinguished careers playing original music. Now they have their own.

It interested me in how their own songs got the least introductions: as if they felt ownership so strongly that this was not necessary (the originals reflect the tracks released to date so pretty much everyone present would have known them): it was the covers which needed explanation.

I extolled the virtues last time out of their keyboard centred tracks  "Been So Long" and "Steal My Heart" (and Horace mentioned to me that they'd been receiving a lot of positive feedback from others). There were no guest keyboardists last night so what we got was a taut, core DRB with just guitar, bass & drums.

And to return to a point I've made before about this band, they completely eschew fripperies & excess: their music is stripped right back to the basics & this really impacts live. When you have the skills that these three possess in playing instruments, you don't require gizmos nor gimmicks. One stark illustration: standing waiting for them to go on, not only could I see no toms on Ted's kit: I couldn't see a floor tom. I then glanced to my right to observe him packing one away: presumably he felt it superfluous. I can't imagine last time I saw a more minimal kit for such energetic music.

And energetic it was: to the point where getting decent photos wasn't on: you can't get easy shots with so much movement (and don't forget to factor in that they are all ‘veterans' of the music business)… but that itself tells a story worth telling and the effect on a relatively small but extremely densely packed room can be imagine. I gave up on taking photos from stage side, wriggled my way back about thirty feet through the crowd & by that point they band were almost lost to sight. But thankfully not earshot.

‘Righteous' should be with us very soon & at that point I'll try & describe the final few songs with you. Hopefully you'll get to catch them play it live. Between them, they must have experienced significant career moments beyond count but this is without question another one as the Dirt Road Band hits an entirely new level. Being the people they are, they are being incredibly modest & grounded by it all (I spoke to each of them individually  beforehand and they all, independently of each other expressed similar sentiments of pride but not excessive pride). Yet they also have worked incredibly hard (and continue to do so) to build what was originally an ad hoc band for a one off pub gig into an internationally applauded purveyor of new music who pack them in everywhere they play.

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