‘He’s Back!!’ was the message from all the posters around the Forum and from the very start it was clear that, after two years of terrible illness, a liver transplant and a long recovery, he was indeed back and with a renewed fire in his belly as well.
Walter Trout has been a hero in Britain for probably 25 years, mentoring young guitarists such as Danny Bryant and Laurence Jones as well as playing some of the most incendiary Blues guitar on the planet. His annual shows have never been less than wholehearted and the love that went out to him from the British public when his illness was announced went across all boundaries of gender or age.
Last night he was announced by veteran DJ Nicky Horne who described seeing an old friend and not recognising him through his emaciated and ‘grey’ appearance. The audience was silent through the introduction but when the lights came up and Walter was there on the stage in front of them there was an almost animalistic cheer from the packed Forum. I have very rarely heard any artist get an ovation before they have played a note but he did and fully deserved too.
Playing his usual cream Strat he roared out of the blocks with his trademark boogie and ripped out a thunderous version of I’m Back. He played a screaming solo that seemed to be all of the best of Walter Trout in one place, tearing up the fretboard and playing with all his verve and pace – as one fool once remarked “Too many notes played far too fast” but describing the best qualities of Walter’s playing perfectly. Sammy Avila threw in some superb Hammond but all the focus was on the main man and he looked so energized he even gave a little dance, something we haven’t seen for years.
As a tribute to his own mentor he played a wonderful and heartfelt Goodbye To The Blues for B.B. King. His guitar and vocals dripping with emotion and the whole band coming together in a brilliant evocation of what he originally wrote as a tribute to Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Then he move into what is probably the serious part of the set – what he described as “The depressing songs”. His latest album Battle Scars is pretty well a chronological tale of his recent traumas and he played Almost Gone to an almost silent, attentive crowd. Describing his last days in LA, expecting to die in a city where over 78% of people awaiting transplant die before receiving one, the song is dark with a sense of foreboding but he ripped into it with a sense of exultation knowing that he had survived. That flowed into Omaha, a town in Nebraska, where, his wife Marie discovered, was where over 88% of people received a transplant. He described the feelings, the pain and the fear of being given a morphine shot to combat it (as a 20 years clean heroin addict he knew that one shot could see him back on that train). This whole segment had the crowd rapt, erupting in cheers and celebrating the return of Walter and welcoming his son Jon for Tomorrow Seems So Far Away.
All through the guitar was powerful and his playing sharp. He recently told me that before the transplant his hands and arms would become so cramped that he could hardly play one of his solos but there was no sign of that now – he was playing with freedom and joy and once again that little dance.
The band were cooking as ever with long time keyboardsman Sammy Avila playing his fills and solos with style and Michael Leasure driving the band along with his powerful drumming. New bass player Johnny Griparic was solid as a rock and with a band this tight and together Walter was given a platform to soar and soar he did.
During Walter’s troubles his band was kept together by adding Jon Trout and Danny Bryant to the line-up and Bryant came on for a couple of numbers, jamming with his old mentor to massive applause from the crowd.
This whole evening was a celebration of Walter Trout and the crowd were completely behind their hero all through the show. When he went off the ovation was genuine and heartfelt and Walter looked for all his previous trouble like a man reborn and loving the audience as much as they loved him.
If he hadn’t played a note this would have been a special evening but he played 2 hours of brilliant guitar and brought the crowd into his performance with the stories of what the songs were for – not least describing how it was only the thought of seeing his family grow up that kept him going. For me the evening was truly made special when he said “and now I’d like to jam with my kid, Jon Trout”.
A very special night, one that will live long in the memory – truly He’s Back!!
As an additional note, three piece band SIMO were the support playing their first ever show in the UK. When they come back for a proper tour they should be a must for anyone with a penchant for Psych-Blues – guitarist JD Simo is spectacular. They received great support from the crowd who absolutely loved them.
The set list:
Help Me (from John Mayall’s Life in the Jungle, 1987)
I’m Back (from Luther’s Blues, 2013)
Say Goodbye to the Blues (from Prisoner of a Dream, 1990)
Almost Gone (from Battle Scars, 2015)
Omaha (from Battle Scars, 2015)
Tomorrow Seems So Far Away (from Battle Scars, 2015)
Playin’ Hideaway (from Battle Scars, 2015)
Haunted By The Night (from Battle Scars, 2015)
Fly Away (from Battle Scars, 2015)
Rock Me Baby
I Can Tell (from Tellin’ Stories, 1994)
Marie’s Mood (from Walter Trout, 1998)
Serve Me Right To Suffer (from Life in the Jungle, 1990)
Going Down (from No More Fish Jokes, 1992)
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