It had been a long time coming and was every bit worth the wait. Before it was even definite that outdoor live gigs could happen again, the Blue Evolution boys took the plunge and booked themselves onto the Cardiff Castle Events programme. Their bravery was rewarded with a strong crowd who got behind these locals from the off and cheered until the final chord of the final guitar solo of the final song died away.
Before Blue Evolution took to the stage, support act Georgia Monaghan belted out soul standards and soulified chart hits. It must have been daunting, standing on that big black stage with only a backing track to keep you company, looking out at the far castle walls and the close-up crowd. Monaghan dealt with it well and showed the audience she had the vocal chops to back up her song selections.
A clever radio recording set up the band as the main event in the city that night and a thumping drum intro from the old pro of the band, Gary Phillips, launched the gig proper. Singer and guitarist Chris Davey led the band brilliantly, with charm and warmth: wielding his Strat and with a lighter (rather than typically rough blues) voice, the Clapton comparisons are easy to make, but Davey has a lot more energy than old Slowhand and owns the stage with his axe antics. He really is a fantastic, expressive guitarist, taking solo after solo without any hint of repetition in his material and real invention in his ‘violining’ and chordal grooves.
Newcomer Al Steele added a lot with his excellent keys playing, while Blue Evolution’s de facto leader, Dave Mac prowled around the stage with his many bass guitars, telling stories and cracking jokes in between songs. The only letdown was that the characterful Alessandro Abet’s rhythm guitar playing was all but lost in the mix, at my distance. Up front, the stage amp probably carried the sound but, although he was hard to hear from Row Q, he made up for it in sheer presence.
A few covers, including a strong return from Monaghan on Seven Nation Army, broke up a set dominated by tracks from the band’s debut album Skin & Bones, recorded in Doors guitarist Robby Krieger’s LA studio. At full throttle, Blue Evolution really know how to turn it on: songs like Penny Down The Well and the album’s title track, with their lowdown blues grooves and ripping guitar solos, show the instrumentalists at their best.
But surprisingly, for a blues outfit, the more melodic material really suits Davey’s voice and tracks like She Don’t Want No Love Song worked brilliantly. A real achievement for the band and a memorable night for a grateful audience: Blue Evolution showed they can sell it on the big stage.
Cardiff Castle, Mon 9 Aug
words JOHN-PAUL DAVIES
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