||KING OF THE HALL
King King/Broken Witt Rebels: Islington Assembly Hall, London
Wednesday 30th November 2016
Words: Andy Rawll, Pictures: Laurence Harvey
With his voice back in fine kilter, following two months' recuperation from vocal surgery, and his lead guitar skills as potent as ever, Alan Nimmo proved that he's well on the way to returning to full-on touring with his acclaimed band King King with a stunning show of bluesome soul.
For almost an hour and a half the wonderfully ornate Assembly Hall was host to royalty, with not one but two Kings gracing this fine venue with their captivating presence and unique brand of soul-fueled blues. Apparently, the third King apologized that he wouldn't be available until closer to Christmas.
Given the smoking ban, there was a distinct lack of the evocative aroma of frankincense or myrrh, yet the heady sound created by this tight knit band was pure gold and the best early Christmas present my ears could ever have received. There will have been plenty of room at the local inns, as the venue was packed with beer drinkers and blues ravers by the time the band came on stage.
Since striking out on his own seven years ago, charismatic singer/guitarist Alan Nimmo has built King King into one of the most valued double word scores in the blues rock lexicon. With three progressively strong albums, this year sees the release of their first live album that mines the richest seams of their studio output. Certainly, it's no coincidence that tonight's set list exactly mirrors the CD running order.
The double K are rightly lauded as a great exponent of blues-rock, but for some that genre is an over ploughed furrow that can lead bands to become stuck in a safe yet soulless rut. King King are different in that respect. Yes, the basic template is blues-based rock, but their sound is full of the verve and swing that's often missing in that genre.
Opening song, 'Losing Control', is a rocking amalgam of the Stones and Bad Co, with Nimmo giving the vocal a good rodgering. 'Wait On Time' is a safer twelve bar-based proposition but elevated to greatness by the fabulous Leslie engorged organ of Bob Fridzema and punchy babbling bass of Lindsay Coulson. Just when you think you've got the measure of the sound and style of the band a songs like 'Long History Of Love' and 'Waking Up' come along, all groove and soul and smoky smooth vocals that recall Paul Carrack.
'Crazy' and particularly 'Rush Hour' brings us back to arena-style blues, patented by Bad Co, with Alan's voice gliding from a blue-tiful croon to a soulful roar. Whereas, 'More Than I Can Take' is all SRV attitude with strat attack to match, powered with bang-on percussive flair by Wayne Proctor.
Older song 'All Your Life' and the newer 'You Stopped The Rain' are catchy as hell and propelled by a backbeat and Hammond stabs which gets the sprung floor of the hall bouncing in unison with the bad Dad shimmying and swaying. In a gig of many highlights, Frankie Miller's 'Jealousy' perhaps shone brightest. Delivered with the understated power of Free and with Alan seemingly channeling the fabled Kossoff vibrato on the extended aching solo.
Throughout the gig, Alan switched between sweet rich tone of a Les Paul and the steely bite of his Strat. His choice of strung weaponry was always pitch perfect not least on the phenomenal set closer 'Stranger To Love' which demanded the gift of Gibson. Starting with classic clean Kossovian tone and escalating to Santanaic majestic overdrive and then back down, for a jaw dropping minute, when the amps were turned down from eleven to nought and he squeezed exquisite unplugged tones from the guitar to an awestruck silent room. Then slowly but surely the power restored and the song built to a final crescendo to bring a close to what had been a remarkable performance.
Following that, the encore of 'Let Love In' felt more like a victory lap that gave the audience the time to gather their thoughts and wallets on the way to the merch booth to acquire a souvenir of what they had just witnessed as Highbury And Islington was transformed into the Highlands and Islay-town for a very special ninety minutes.
If this is what a recuperating Alan Nimmo sounds like, I can't imagine how good the shows planned for 2017 are going to be.
Since winning the coveted 'Best Rock Act' accolade at the inaugural 'Unsigned Music Awards', this band of Brummy Gems have been busier than ever, winning coveted support slots with bands like Whiskey Myers and Joanne Shaw Taylor and the current tour with King King. Theirs was a taut and passionate set that oozed class and southern swampy style.
Having first seen the Rebels at a showcase gig at the Notting Hill Arts Club well over a year ago, it's been fascinating and gratifying to see how the band has both evolved in stature as well as in musical identity. With Danny Core's distinctive blues howl drawing early comparisons with brother Followill, some dismissed them as Kings Of Crayon knock-offs. Yet, the past year has seen them tighten their sound, declutter their arrangements and, most of all, hone their song-craft.
Although early songs from their first EP, such as 'Howlin' and 'Shake Me Down' still sit proud in their set-list, it's the new songs that really draw the ear. 'Low' from their latest EP is great stomping opening song and the video single 'Guns' particularly memorable. Most promising is the number of strong as yet unrecorded songs that feature in their live set, in particular the Zeppelin tinged 'God Knows' and insistent 'Come On Over'.
The front-of-house sound at the Assembly Hall is consistently good and the clear volume and wide separation of the different instrument really enhanced the performance and brought songs to life compared to previous shows in smaller venues. If anything, this proves that Broken Witt Rebels are band that are made for the big stage, so it's still surprising that they remain unsigned, if not unnoticed. With almost twenty songs to choose from, the debut album and label deal can't be too far away now. Catch 'em while you can.