April 18, 2024

Eric Bibb – Live In Leeds 2023 – “songs of stubborn resistance are his best”

Live at The City Varieties, Leeds 21st May 2023

There are two Eric Bibbs – one, a gentle purveyor of heartwarming and slightly soppy songs, the other a ripping bluesman. I prefer the latter but we’re talking about a human here. A human with more than one history – although raised in the States and emotionally tied (as shown by his songs) to the racial struggles there, he’s spent more than half his life in Sweden. He talks with love and awe about other bluesmen and when he rips into the blues, his fingers tell the tale. Blessed with a rich, warm voice, I think we are all really here for the guitar. Adept, fluent and intricate at times, there is clever stuff going on but completely devoid of flashy solos. Instead, he works with Mark Jerome alongside him to meld slide, riffs and fingerpicking into a four-handed package.

Smiling his way onto the stage in this intimate Victorian music hall theatre, wide brimmed hat shading his face much of the time, clad in a suit and three-tone shoes, Eric Bibb sits solo for an old blues standard, fingers doing magic. The band joins him, introduced one by one in an generous way and ‘Silver Spoon’ tells us the story of his journey to settled life. He likes story songs and there are plenty to come. Next up, ‘Tulsa Town’ tells the story of the race riot where “the Black Wall Street” was burnt down by the local white population. A little sidetrack into sentimentality with ‘Along The Way’ follows – gentle, corny and soppy but delivered in a deep resonant voice edged with a bluesman rasp. And if I don’t like the corn, I can listen to Bibb’s guitar and that of talented Canadian blues player, Mark Jerome. The drums are an interesting feature too, leaning towards jazz and never 4/4. The guitars meld perfectly in ‘A Dollar In My Pocket’, another story song.

Things hot up for the blues stomper, ‘With My Maker I Am One’ – feet stomp, Eric growls and the place comes alive. There are still soppy songs to come, like ‘People You Love’ but many more high points and some down home blues. When on the oldies, like ‘Come Back Baby’, something catches fire in Bibb, something from my favourite side. He talks with a smile in his voice about meeting Dylan when he was eleven and other tales from his past, meeting idols of his. Equally, he does an excellent job on ‘Needed Time’ by Taj Mahal and this carries though to ‘Don’t Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down’, a stormer of his. Along with ‘Call Me By My Name’, this shows me that Bibb’s songs of stubborn resistance are his best, inspiring the fieriest performances.

Closing on ‘In My Father’s House’, Bibb stands up and his body channels the energy, stomping and practically hollering. Leaving us so fired up at the end is cruel and I’d have loved a whole set of that. It’s been an evening of gentle talk, loving spirit, clear love for the blues and a selection of burning blues, played immaculately. It’s my fault that I wanted two sets – one of the loving gentleness and one of pure blues. No matter, hearing guitars played like that is a special joy.


Ross McGibbon


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