Henrik Freischlader’s star continues to rise, only recently he could be seen trading licks with Mr Joe Bonamassa onstage. Layla Zoe has also increased her fan-base hugely in Europe in the last months since her excellent second CD on CableCar ‘The Lily’ hit the shops both physically and virtually (internet).
Anything less than an evening of BluesRock magic at the Harmonie would have been a disappointment then, so if you did have a disappointing Wednesday night then you must have been elsewhere – Layla and Henrik both clearly enjoy playing music too much not to give it their best.
7.45pm and there’s a man beside me putting fresh batteries in his video-cam. Along further I can see familiar faces unpacking their DSLR’s, and cellphones are already being pointed at the instruments waiting for switches to be flicked to lurch into melodic life. The first click to ‘on’ goes to the white Fender Strat of Layla Zoe’s Bonn guitarist Jan Laacks. I have to say that, much as I enjoyed her show a while back with Jens Filser doing Strat duties, I really love Jan’s gritty, no frills approach. Layla’s set is completely based around songs from her two Cable Car releases this evening and Laacks gives the material a harder, raunchier sound than that provided by Henrik Freischlader on the discs. No criticism of Henrik intended – he just has a more melodic touch to his hard rocking.
The cameras are hungrily snapping up every twirl of Layla Zoe’s flaming hair. Layla herself is almost oblivious to them. She’s in her ‘Firegirl’ guise – and that’s good news for us all. The churning hard rock riff of ‘I choose you’ follows on into the equally heavy and punchy ‘Singing My Blues For You’. The tassles on Layla’s black suede boots are always in motion, and inevitably, by sets end, one of her long feathery earrings has parted company with her ear. Fresh from a recent visit to see The Brew she has also clearly taken lessons from Jason Barwick in the art of stage movement upwards – I think Jason still has the edge height-wise Layla, but he doesn’t have earrings to weigh himself down.
‘Pull Yourself Together’ is the second track from ‘Sleep Little Girl’ that gets an airing and if it’s slightly slower than the previous numbers it’s still at Richter 10 on the raunch scale. ‘They Lie’, ‘Why You So Afraid’ and ‘Never Met a Man’ are all supercharged too but the highlight comes last. “Are there any women in the audience?” asks Layla blinking out across the packed rows of mainly men. “This is for them – and the men too!” she smiles. It’s a sublime version of ‘Mans World’ with both Layla and Jaan delivering powerful performances. Just behind the stage I can see Henrik Freischlader in the shadows with a big smile on his face. By the time Layla takes a snapshot of the audience with her cellphone similar smiles can be seen on every face too. I felt a little disappointed by the choice of tracks for the set – no ‘Father’, no ‘Rock n Roll Guitar Man’ and unfortunately no ‘The Lily’ this evening. No disappointment over the set itself though, Hot stuff from the Firegirl.
While Layla was out catching concerts by the Brew Henrik Freischlader was out catching shows with Mr Bonamassa, and it shows by the plexi-glass shield in front of his Real Tone’ speaker cabinets. I remember this set-up from Joe and make a note to ask Henrik about it after the show. Do they make a noticeable sound difference onstage? Suffice to say I forgot to ask – if you’re out there Henrik let me know the answer.
The sound when HF gets underway is still pretty heavy from the opening ‘Better Man’ but it’s cleaner than we heard with Jan Laacks. Maybe it’s down to the white Gibson Firebird that he keeps for a large part of the early set. After Last Saturdays concert at Klangstation where I heard a lot of great Hard Rock from Bonn bands but no real guitar soloing of any length, this evening more than made up for the deficit. Whatever the effect of the plexiglass shields Freischlader seems to have come back from Joe with a fresh love for simpler Blues. At his show Last year I remember feeling a little disappointed at the lack of such material but this time around he’s delved deep into his Blues catalogue and come up with some simply structured classics from the early days like ‘Disappointed Woman’ ‘ and ‘She A’int got the Blues’ from 2006’s appropriately titled album ‘The Blues’.
There’s good-natured banter between songs as ever, and when Henrik bemoans the third in a row of split plectrums he gratefully accepts one ‘on loan’ from a guy in the audience and likes it so much it stays in his hand long after the mike stand has had it’s plectrum holder refilled. There are regular smiles with the band too, especially with drummer Bjorn Krüger, who really gave his all for the entire set – I worried for his health such was his ceaseless energy. Kudos also to Moritz Fuhrhop on Hammond, especially during the wonderful interplay with Henrik during ‘Voodoo Child’. I could hear that Theophilis Fotiadis was keeping a mean backbeat on bass too, even though he seemed to be hemmed into a tiny section at the stage back whilst stage middle was empty except for Henrik’s occasional wanderings during solos.
The predominance of Blues numbers still left room for other favourites though and one of my all time ones is ‘What’s My Motherf**king Name?’ which gave Henrik the chance to have us all swearing our heads off merrily. There was a beautiful and bittersweet version of ‘We Cry’ and ‘I’ve Changed’ to bring the pace down but the biggest cheers came for ‘The Bridge’ – a song that showcases exactly why Henrik Freischlader can share a stage and a solo with Mr Bonamassa with ease and if Gary Moore’s signature was on the back of Henrik’s Gold-top Les Paul then his melody and ear for a perfect melodic line were on the top of it, ringing from the strings.
A rousing ‘House in the Woods’ and loosely structured ‘Voodoo Child’ with the aforementioned Hammond Organ interplay brought the show to an end. I’m still waiting for an evening of electric guitars without a Hendrix number, but if they have to be there then let them be as classy as this evening’s was.
An evening of musical magic then by musicians who play because, as Layla Zoe says of her wonderful singing in my INTERVIEW it’s “what I was born to do”. I discover later that Henrik actually plays in drummer Bjorn Krüger’s band – as drummer – and seeing as he pops up regularly on disc and tour with Tommy Schneller,Layla, Mike Andresen and Joe B of course I wonder if the work with Krügers band is on his day off. I was about to ask him this and it struck me that ‘Day Off’ is probably a phrase that Henrik wouldn’t recognize.
The Night Train to Budapest’ Tour rolls on, catch it if you can, you’ll enjoy the ride for sure.