Seventeen years?! The bright neon logo hanging behind the band says ‘Est. 2003’ so it must be true, but even so it’s hard to believe, with the smiles and energy coming from the men onstage, that Thorbjørn Risager & the Black Tornado can have been around for 17 years. The band has certainly made a lot of friends in those years with it’s catchy party style live presentation. The result is that a good-sized crowd is at Bonn Harmonie this evening despite the Corona virus concerns. It’s just reward for a 6 am drive down from Copenhagen this morning, and the smile on Thorbjørn Risager’s face says he’s glad to be out of that van and standing before us this evening.
There is certainly a freshness to the band in 2020. Partly down to having new material (‘Come on In’ is a cracking cd by the way), partly down to the energy of having a new guitarist in Joachim Svensmark, and also it must be said, down to the re-branding. There’s a bear on that new neon sign blazing above Martin Seidelin’s drumkit. Bjorn is Danish for Bear, and his nose is in the shape of a Nordic God’s hammer – Thor. Thor-Bjørn… Dashed clever these Danes. There is another neon sign at the stage side inviting us to ‘Come On In’ too, but what about the music when we get there? Thankfully, The Black Tornado is most definitely not all smoke and mirrors.
In fact, the seven men onstage fit musically together as tightly as the seal on a vacuum flask, but with considerably more room to breathe. Exhibit A: ‘Straight and Narrow Line’ where both keyboarder Emile Balsgaard and sax-man Hans Nybo get to stretch out with equally blistering results. It’s very easily forgotten with a voice like Thorbjørn Risagers onstage that there is actually a very talented set of musicians backing the voice up. A happy set of musicians too it would seem from the smiles and jokes – witness Nybo sticking his head under the cloth covering the back of Balsgaard’s keyboard. There are lots of smiles onstage, but the music itself is taken very seriously.
The set is tipped in favour of latest release ‘Come On In’ and with the arrival of Joachim Svensmark on guitar that certainly makes sense. Svensmark has really pushed the sound in a harder direction that’s also evident on the older songs in the set. It’s also interesting to hear the difference in his soloing to that of Risager. After the show, I asked both men to name their heroes and Risager named his influences as ‘BB’ and ‘BG’ as in BB King and Billy Gibbons.
When I asked Joachim Svensmark the same question he gave me two very stylistically different names from those of Risager: Stevie Ray Vaughan and Jimi Hendrix. The mixture gives Black Tornado an enviable bandwidth guitar-wise. It pushes ‘Hold My Lover Tight’ up an extra gear from the original 2017 recording on ‘Change My Game’ – hitting Thin Lizzy ‘Emerald’ Territory at its close, except that this time around that wall of sound comes courtesy of two Gibsons and a trumpet/sax all hitting the same final riff with all they’ve got.
The guitar heroes may be different, but BB, BG, JH and SRV all had the Blues in their veins of course, and not surprisingly, when set two opens with a pure Blues number in the shape of ‘I’ll Be Gone’, it’s a high point of the evening. This time it’s the stripped down basics of a trio that makes the music stand out – dynamics is just another facet of live music that this band handle perfectly. For me it makes for one of the evenings highlights, of which there are many; the second set perhaps having more of them as the band picked up pace from song to song and cherry-pick from earlier discs, which, given the quality of the material thereon, is both a sure fire winner of a decision and evidence of the quality this band has been putting out over the years. ‘All I Want is You’ and the break-neck tempo of ‘Rock n Roll Ride’ were as hot as the special sauce on-sale at the merchandise booth. Believe me, if it has ‘Black Tornado’ on it – it’s gonna burn!
So, the packaging of the band might be new, but the band itself is as good as ever, maybe dare I say it, even getting better with age. I’m still waiting for a new album that really utilises new guitarist Svenmarsk. He was a newcomer when ‘Come on In’ was recorded but I think will have a lot to contribute in future.
For a band that’s been together so long, I’m always amazed at how much the members seem to enjoy playing together. It’s no accident that they play short European tours with plenty of breaks rather than long haul ‘around-the-world in 80 plays’ route marches. It’s a well deserved luxury. Drummer Martin Seidelin pointed out that they have worked hard on the road to reach a point where they can be picky about the venues. Wherever the Band play these days the audience can be sure that, to paraphrase one of Thorbjorn Risager’s oft used quotes, “We’re here, and alles ist Gut!”. Which is all that needs to be said by a band with one of the best singers, best guitarists, and best horn sections in the business.
There’s a lightning bolt too on that new neon sign – fitting for a band that go down a storm wherever they play. Prepare to be electrified by their new show, and like the sign says – come on in!
you can’t beat the blues, it’s the base of so many great musical lives, clapton included