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JOHNNY WINTER Astoria, London, 1 May 2008

This may come and things may go but Johnny Winter remains constant in the rock-blues sphere. Although to be strictly accurate his playing ability has remained constant even if his health (which is fast getting better) has taken something of a battering of late.

Johnny Winter

Photo: Yukiko Smythe-Park(Hasegawa)

Fronting a power trio for most part of the night, Johnny set out as statement of intent by attempting a quick purposeful march to his chair as if to announce he is back in rude health.

And from then on in it was an evening spent in the company of a guitar supremo who has refound his trademark growl and whipped up the crowd into a vociferous appreciation of his arts.

For Winter is a man who has gone through the hedge backwards in the last few years and when all seemed lost he's making a comeback and last night's show seemed to suggest everything is well on track.

Boosted both on and off the stage by the presence of former Berklee School of Music guitar player Paul Nelson, Johnny had a suitable big intro as Paul opened up proceeding with a powerful instrumental featuring rock solid bass man Scot Spray and newcomer Tony Beard on the drums.

Johnny duly made his entrance and wasted little time in launching into flurries of notes with his splendidly named white Erlewine Lazer guitar, making the most of a muscular version of Freddie King's 'Hideaway' and an equally masterful version of Lazy Lester's Sugar Coated Love' (to be found on the current 'I'm A Bluesman' CD).

It was on this early number that Johnny showed he was truly back to his best combining a series of fluid runs with his guttural growl. At the conclusion of the song he briefly glanced up at the front rows of cameras and it felt like he's never he'd never really been away.

He crouched over his guitar and cut a figure of focused concentration punctuating some superlative playing with a number brief announcement of the each successive song. Indeed so short were the intro's that you almost missed the fact that his old UK drummer Ted Compton slipped behind the kit for one of the evening's highlights 'Johnny Guitar'.

Not to be outdone new drummer Tony Beard also added a passable vocal on 'Tore Down' while Johnny blazed away with some stinging lines. And there was more to come, as Winter unexpectedly announced Hendrix's 'Red House'.

By this point the crowd were warming to the evening proceedings though the sight of concerned security guards handing out glasses of water to the three front rows surely belonged to a different generation of gig goers.

But for long time fans this was a heart warming show, Johnny seemed happy to slip through his back pages and reinterpret the bluesier side of the career, including his long term admiration of the Stones with a raucous version of Bobby Womack's 'It's All Over Now'.

By the time of the two encore slide show piece - 'Mojo Boogie' and 'She Boogies Real Low' - he had blow away the cobwebs, and brought a final deserving roar from the crowd before heading straight off stage into his waiting Winnebago.

Earlier on 18 tear old guitarist Oli Brown and his fine trio received a good hand for a burst of nervous energy that by the end of the set had gathered momentum, coherence and self confidence. Signed to Ruf Records, this is young man with a fine band who Johnny later told him, 'Just keep playing and it will all come round'.

Review by Pete Feenstra



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