New York USA and Gundsø Denmark were the hometowns of Friday nights visitors to Crossroads Rockpalast, and the music, like the locations, was worlds apart. Steve Waitt and Thorbjorn Risager are tonight ‘ Musical guess at The Harmonie.
Steve Waitt has been a staple of the New York music scene for a while now and his music has been compared most often to that of Billy Joel. Certainly good reason to be at The Harmonie in good time to catch his 45 minutes in front of the Rockpalast video cameras.
Waitt’s band is really a sound carpet for the excellent songwriting skills of the singer himself. It has to be said though that guitarist Greg Tuohey makes a considerable effort to weave a silken carpet – He works hard to coax every nuance out of his Fender electric, tapping the back of its neck and waving it lightly as many a serious player would with an acoustic. The tremolo arm also gets a good work-out, but it’s all rather like the soundtrack to a movie that the man stage centre with the electric piano is creating.
The wiry perm on Steve Waitt’s head reminds me a little of Art Garfunkel and at times so do his vocals. For the most part though the Billy Joel comparison is about the best description to cling to. I didn’t hear anything to quite touch the likes of ‘Piano Man’ or ‘Still Rock n Roll’ but if you’re looking for relaxing songs with well crafted lyrics then go to one of his concerts – I actually found the new CD ‘Stranger in a stranger land’ to be rockier than the live show, which is unusual. It can’t have been down to the material as much of it was from the CD. Maybe it was down to another carpet – the one on the stage floor – damping down the sound.
I could hear every word of the lyrics, so commendations to Waitt for that. I did wonder if perhaps some of the audience who were not so up with their English skills might get bored., but the applause at the end of each song was warm, generous and seemed sincere though so I guess I was wrong. Excellent mood music and lovers of Billy Joel, and indeed Supertramp, will find plenty to enjoy.
Thorbjorn Risager and the grandly named Black Tornado have firmly established themselves in the hearts of Bonn Blues lovers with their previous appearances here, although Risager’s is far from the average Blues combo (with the exception of the late great BB King perhaps). His last appearance at the Harmonie was even filmed and released as a DVD by RUF Records. It was an okay show but I didn’t feel enthusiastic enough to buy the DVD when it came out – maybe I was holding a grudge about Peter Skjerning wearing a Stetson so large that photos of his soloing became a nightmare.
There’s a guy with a bushy red beard tuning up on guitar before the show starts so I’m figuring we will have a different guitarist and (whoopee!) no Stetson. Showtime and the Stetson is back – I hadn’t recognized Skjerning under the beard (and never saw his eyes last time!) Actually I’m glad there is no change since he really is a fine slide guitarist and is an integral part of putting the authentic Blues sound into the Band. Along with that gloriously rough, gruff diamond of a voice that is really Risager’s great strength. Although he’s a pretty mean songwriter as is punctuated after the show is over in the form of an award – more on that later.
There’s no new platter out since the live one but there are some new songs from the forthcoming release. It’s not due until January 2017 so don’t do an Amazon search yet. Why so long? A smiling Risager told me later “Well, we want it to be the best it can be”. An equally smiling Thomas Ruf explained that it was a contractual thing – one album release a year. A bit of research tells me that the live release came out in September 2015, so maybe you could do us all a musical favour and get the new Risager to us this side of Christmas Mr Ruf? On the evidence of the new songs presented tonight it will be a cracker!
This evenings show has a bit less spectacle than that DVD from last year. No Backing singers and consequently no chance of a return duet with Ida Bangs which was a high point last time. All in all though tonight’s was widely considered the better show by the many who saw both. Maybe because it was reduced to the basic band core and everyone had a little more room onstage both musically and physically. I love the starter as always, ‘If you wanna leave’. How can anyone want to leave a concert with a belter of an opener like that? Risager’s vocal on it is a defiant one and I defy you not to remain and enjoy the next 45 minutes.
A good slice of the ‘Too Many Roads’ disc is on offer of course, including the wonderfully evocative ‘China Gate’and the wonderfully rocking ‘High Rolling‘. A few disappointed faces (including my own) though that the title track isn’t on the set-list tonight. A bit like Thin Lizzy not doing ‘The Boys are back in Town’ or Rory Gallagher leaving out ‘Bullfrog Blues’. I hope this was a temporary change.
When Michael Seiz comes onstage to present Risager with his award from the Deutsche Schallplatten Kritik he stands there for two minutes blinking into a sea of waving hands and cheers of ‘Zugabe’ (encore!) before finally retreating with a smile to let Thorbjorn Risager and his Black Tornadoes take their rightful place – which is on a stage making music.
Finally, after a storming rendition of ‘Drowning’, Seiz returns and the cheering dies down to a level that the Rockplast soundboard can handle. There are in fact two awards tonight and both, unusually for the majority of awards these days) entirely justified. Were it not for RUF’s Blues Caravan bringing me into the Bonn music scene when it came here in 2005 this very website would probably not exist. I’ve been honoured to interview some of the best unsung heroes of Blues music thanks to Thomas Ruf. I’ve been tempted out of many a Euro by those boxes of RUF label CD’s with great music on them too. Mr Ruf has come a long way since Luther Allison tempted him into the world of Blues promotion and no one was clapping louder than me when he collected his award this evening.
Without Thomas Ruf I may never have discovered Thorbjorn Risager’s music, and that would have been a tragedy indeed. I’ve given copies of ‘Too Many Roads‘ as birthday and Christmas presents to people and all have loved it too. That’s how musicians become known in this ‘klein aber fein’ niche of music we call Blues. In an interview accompanying the Rockpalast concert online Risager is asked what has made him most proud in his career so far. His answer is typically down to Earth and without bells and whistles – “I’m really proud I can make a living playing music. I didn’t think it would happen. Even ten years ago I had to teach on the side” To Thomas and Thorbjorn with his whirlwind band of Black Tornadoes, a big thank you for making my musical life a lot richer. Had I been offered the choice between attending the BritPop awards or The Harmonie on this fine March evening I would have been standing here in Endenich cheering real musical heroes.
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