From the MEN
Chris Rea @ Apollo
AS a moody darkness falls upon the stage and a hazy red spotlight descends over Chris Rea’s hypnotic guitar solo we could be in any Deep South blues den.
Slow and smouldering you can almost feel the heat off a long dusty road as his deep vocals growl out across the Apollo.
The song – his classic 1980s hit Road To Hell – but nothing like you’ve heard it before. Re-imagined, reinvented, and with a good dose of blues soul. Much more like something his hero BB King would sing than the hit he’s best-known for.
Pretty much like Rea himself, who has transformed his music and his style following a well-documented bout of serious health problems and major surgery. A shadow of his former self, the 57-year-old singer still needs regular insulin shots – and tours on a scaled back gig rota.
But, darn it, that’s what makes him so good to watch these days.
Having spurned the hit-chasing ways of the established music industry to set up his own label, Jazzee Blue, he’s had an epiphany. And it shows – not only in his recent elaborate albums – but in his live set too, as he plays precisely what he likes.
This time round he’s rung the changes with a fantastic three-part set. Part one – a homage to his musical heroes by transforming his band into “The Delmonts”, a 1950s-style Shadows instrumental act. Complete with prom-style backing cloth and fabulously retro song titles including India Arab, or BB Was A Comanche.
Only for them to become The Hofner Blue Notes, for a darker neon-lit blues style second section, full of lazy beats and crying guitars. Before, finally, his better-known hits such as On The Beach and Let’s Dance, albeit given a grittier blues edge.
While all the time a single guitar bearing the legend “My first guitar 1976” stands at the front of the stage, as if to show how far he has come since then.
Now, with dozens of other guitars on display around the stage, Rea shows what a true craftsman he is with this instrument. Playing it with the skill and feeling of a true virtuoso. Teamed with a voice straight from a dusty saloon on the Mexico border.
Having seen him in action a few times over the past few years, I’d say he’s growing to become one of this country’s great blues performers.
He’s got the skill, the soul, but most of all the painful experience it really takes to sing songs of love, loss, heaven, and the devil – and really mean them