The Tyne Theatre and Opera House, Newcastle 2022 1st December 2022
It’s a lovely old fashioned theatre for a classic electric blues show that shifts from blasting to rolling to heartfelt. It would only have been better if the folks in the stalls could have got up to shake their bones and add a bit of warmth to the fire coming from the stage.
A Midlands native, Joanne Shaw Taylor now lives in the US but has an extensive UK tour on, bringing her love of US tropes back home. You’ll hear little bits of other Americana in amongst the blues, from the Western twang of last single, ‘Bad Blood’, to occasional country hints. She can turn in straight rock-pop and singer-songwriter sensitivity too but the audience is here for electric blues, hot and fresh, and there is plenty of that – going on for two hours-worth.
Opening with ‘Stop Messing Around’, the band is strong and the next, ‘I Want You To Love Me’, is pure traditional stomping blues. Joanne’s playing is visceral and the solos attacked like a hungry tiger. She has a bodily reaction to the sound her fingers are making and often appears to be riding a wave of sound – her head tossed back, a grin on her face, apparently delighted with what she is hearing. Similarly, I see the guitar faces that good electric guitar produces move across her face – at least when her hair isn’t over the contortions. Backed with a solid band, the sound is good. Her second guitarist rips a mean solo now and again and the keyboards are fed through an old-school mechanical Lesley speaker, making for a glorious rich whirr of an organ sound. Behind Joanne, the bass bobs gently, playing just enough, just right. Never trust a bass player who doesn’t bob or wiggle, I say.
Chatty, she warns us to take the Fabulous Thunderbirds song, ‘Two Time My Lovin’’ (“secondhand loving is better than none”), with a pinch of salt. It’s bullshit, she says. ‘Let Me Down Easy’ is slow and declarative, showing off Joanne’s throaty vocals. ‘Three Time Loser’ is a rolling blues and the band builds momentum while Shaw Taylor smiles furiously before the rock a beating boogie of ‘Dyin To Know’. The bass backbeat is a joy and second guitar does a rocking wiggle. The Spaghetti Western twang of Bad Blood is preceded by Joanne’s rambling fantasy about Billy Bob Thornton turning up for her video, tied in to her ongoing dream of going to Harry Potter World for Christmas. You know…. Blues, celebrity and schools for wizards… your everyday musician’s wishlist….. It does lead her into a lovely Knopfler-esque lyrical solo though.
Taking another detour, ‘Won’t Be Fooled Again’ is quite Fleetwood Mac and very Eighties pop. Before long, ‘Been Loving You Too Long’ brings more lyricism with a lovely descending pattern played on her Gibson Les Paul (the rest of the show is Telecaster based). The organ sounds from that Lesley speaker build and rise along with the emotion. Speaking of emotion, an acoustic guitar appears for ‘Just Another Word’, detailing what Joanne would say to her mum, who died ten years ago. There’s only gentle guitar and piano with this and it is the quietest moment in the set. From here it is back to the rocking blues, pentatonic scales and guitar strangling for the last half a dozen songs, except for a sidestep into pure rock-pop on ‘Going Home’.
There’s a reason Joanne Shaw Taylor has released two live albums in less than a decade; this is an environment she is happy in. She excels at pushing the feeling in these songs, belts things out in a powerful voice, likes leading the band and she seems to take a life-enhancing energy from squeezing solos out of her guitar. There is a visible physical effect and joy in the times she hits the flow with a stream of notes and that can’t help but transfer into the audience.