Thorbjørn Risager and the Black Tornado – “consistent great taste and beautiful pain”. So said the label of a miniature hot sauce bottle with the band’s name on it taking pride of place on the merchandise table. Well it beats badges, stickers and T shirts for sure. Over on the Harmonie stage Copenhagen’s finest Blues/Soul combo were indeed laying down some hot music and the music was indeed as beautiful as it was painless.
I counted this as the band’s fourth appearance at the Harmonie but already it holds happy memories for Thorbjørn and Co. Their live CD of course was recorded here not so long ago, and on the last appearance they picked up an Award from the German Record Industry so when the gentle Danish musical giant tells us how happy he is to be back it’s certainly from the heart. It was a big challenge to follow up that Deutsche Schallplatten prize for the ‘Too Many Roads’ CD, but as my review last year celebrated, TR and Co did so with flying colours. It’s a victory that hasn’t gone un-noticed judging by the number of bodies squeezing into the Harmonie stage-front this evening. Familiar faces from many a Blues concert are here, but it’s certainly not an evening of straight ahead typical Blues music.
A great deal of credit for that diversity of course goes to the front man’s soul soaked, throaty voice – a larynx that could sing from the Stockholm telephone book and give it depth and nuance. ‘I used to love you’ he laments early on, and it seems a lot of Risager’s numbers are born from love lost and travelling lonely roads. On which score I was disappointed not to hear ‘Too Many Roads’ this evening – proof though of how much high-quality material there is to choose from now. Nuggets from the more distant past are few but ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Ride’ from 2010 still struts majestically along “I wanna swing these rhythm and Blues into the night” and swing them he does.
The band’s live disc ‘Songs from the Road’ was actually recorded here in this very venue in 2015 and it’s an excellent introduction to the band, but for my money tonight’s show betters that disc not only because the new studio disc ‘Change My Game’ offers an increased wealth of quality songs to choose from, but also because the band just keep getting better and better. The last change in personnel was actually some years ago now when Peter Skjerning took over lead guitar duties from Svein Erik Martinsen and truthfully, everytime you think they can’t get any tighter musically – they somehow do.
Whilst other band’s seem to be increasing their horn sections TR has opted this evening for a duo, but Peter Kehl and Hans Nybo have the presence and sound of a full sextet. Behind them on keys is the seemingly ever smiling Emil Balsgaard, and Balsgaard has a lot to do with that extra dimension that the music takes with this band tonight, especially when the pace is taken down a notch or two.
I know there was a time (before the band’s contract with Stetson) when Martin Seidelin didn’t wear a red bowler hat, but it’s become such a trademark that I struggled to recognize him without it at the merchandise stand. His is a face of concentration throughout, whipping away at his drum-kit like a coach driver would whip his horses to get the last ounce of effort from them. Completing the rhythm section is bassman Søren Bøjgaard who does a very good job of hiding in the shadows whilst keeping the groove perfectly. No bad thing considering this band has such a high count personality wise.
“A great thing about being in a band like this” guitarist Peter Skjerning tells me later “is that everyone is free to be inventive and try out new ideas”. In Skjerning’s case that meant building his own ‘Canjo’ (a close relation to the Diddley Bow and cigar box guitar offshoots) His industrial soup can powered instrument only gets a short work-out this evening but it’s an attention getter for sure. Like me he has an obvious love for the raw, rootsy style of playing and a highlight from the first set is Skjerning’s own ‘Holler ‘n’ Moan’ from the new disc.
“Here’s one of the slowest songs, one of the slowest songs…” before Risager can say “of the evening” some wag in the audience shouts back “Überhaupt!” (ever!) and Risager enjoys the joke. I enjoy the song – it’s ‘Lay my Burden Down’ from the new disc and when the Man gets to the last line “I’m gonna lay my burden…” each syllable seems to go down an octave until I’m wondering how he will ever manage to reach for the final “down”, but somehow he manages to find a last gasp of air deep in his lungs.
The Harmonie is a home from home now for Risager and it’s not hard to see why the patrons here in Endenich have taken the Man so much to their hearts. His is a simple philosophy when it comes to enjoying playing (and hearing) live music. As he puts it in inimitable Risager-Deutsch: “Ein Bisschen singen. Ein bisschen trinken. Und alles ist gut!”
I’ve seen a fair few shows where the first half has seemed like a warm up, but when I tell you my review has only now reached the half-time break you will know that TR and Co do not subscribe to this method of live sets. There follows a good 40 minutes of singing, playing, handwaving and beer drinking before we hear that a night of great music is almost over. “But please come and talk to us afterwards over a beer” smiles The Big Man – offering a choice of topics: Martin (Seidelin) knows everything about football, Peter (Skjerning) is the man for political discussion… but what we really want is one more song, and then another… sadly all good things must end.
Not wanting to sound like I’m conducting some sort of scientific inquiry here, but looking back I think the band’s even better now because it’s breadth of dynamics has increased. When they rock they are a powerful unit whose sum sonically more than equals it’s parts, and that makes the quieter moments all the more dramatic.
Tonight’s rendition of the Tom Wait’s number ‘Christmas Card from a Hooker’ was as magical as it was surprising. To say ‘just’ the vocal of Risager and ‘just’ the keys of Emil Baalsgard would be an insult to the musical highpoint of my concert-going thus far in 2017. It takes a special talent to take a Wait’s song and make it your own but if you were there you will know Risager succeeded, and if you weren’t – I am sorry for your loss!
As always, the band close with a song titled ‘Opener’ that is charged with the task of getting us all alert, alive and ready to hit the merchandise stand after the lights have dimmed. When I arrive there I can’t resist getting a Black Tornado sauce to take home with me of course – if only to test if it could be even hotter than the band…