|Average White Band in Seattle in 2013
Photo Credit Johan Broberg/ Creative Commons
A Soul Summit – Average White Band & Kokomo
(Royal Festival Hall. 21st November. 2015 EFG LJF. Review by Dan Bergsagel)
As Average White Band left the stage with two and a half thousand people on their feet, it felt more like the end of the final headline set at Glastonbury than an evening in the Royal Festival Hall. Yet when the house lights came on, with the final stabs of Pick Up The Pieces still hanging in the air, the audience were revealed not as muddy young rockers but a different tranche of society: charitably middle-aged and dressed for the theatre. On paper, Saturday night’s Soul Summit may have seemed a straightforward return to past 70s glory, but the fantastic musical delivery from the bands and the joyous reception they received from the audience made it a new night to remember in its own right.
The mood was laid with a first set from Kokomo – their neat instrumental work leaving space for three singers to dance, enjoy themselves and whip up the crowd. Still anchored around Tony O’Malley on keys, much of the initial lineup still feature, with the stage flanked by original guitarists Neil Hubbard and Jim Mullen.
Early on in their set delightfully energetic and foul-mouthed frontman Frank Collins quipped that it had been at least thirty years since they’d shared a stage with AWB. Over those three decades, through breakups and reunions Kokomo have managed to retain an impressive number of their original line-up; Average White Band less so. Yet as they launched explosively with I Just Can’t Give You Up, one couldn’t resist feeling that Alan Gorrie and Onnie McIntyre had found some rather fine replacements in youth instead. The relatively recent 2011 addition of ex-Tower of Power singer Brent Carter to take responsibility for Hamish Stuart‘s old role is inspired recruitment – not only an excellent vocal match for the higher registers but a musician with an easy stage presence which gelled well. The effortlessly tight The Jugglers demonstrated that the new back line were up to speed, with Rob Aries accomplished on keys with a slick solo.
Some Chaka Khan kept things light before a touching rendition of the Marvin Gaye classic I Want You, with much of the band coming together to contribute backing vocals. And while things were already going well, the start of the percussive backing track for the buoyant Atlantic Avenue may have been the moment when the momentum really started building. The playful sax lines, the expertly executed vocal duet between Gorrie and Carter’s falsetto arrival at the middle eight felt like you were in the record, and when the larger than life horn intro of Work To Do followed on the audience didn’t need to be asked twice to get out of their chairs and groove in appreciation, and it took off from there. The ever funky guitar-bass interplay of When Will You be Mine had dignified couples dancing in the boxes. Cut The Cake saw septuagenarians running down the aisles to join the growing throng at the foot of the stage.
Fast running out of funk, the cheesier soulful A Love of Your Own brought brief respite and a gut busting alto solo from Cliff Lyons took the competitive saxophone sparring to the next level before In The Beginning became the chosen vehicle for a solo drum onslaught from the tireless Rocky Bryant, letting off some steam before they finished their set with the first AWB single, Put It Where You Want It.
So often bands have to coax and cajole audiences into participating: some organised clapping here, some forced chorus singing there. And so often in seated auditoriums like the Royal Festival Hall, suited to hosting orchestras as well as anything else, the sound quality and view is fantastic but some energy and passion can be lost in the cavernous space. Not today. Returning for an encore with the amusingly suitable Let’s Go Round Again, this current incarnation of AWB looked as relaxed and natural as if each member of the group had been playing these tunes for more than 40 years. As the audience took the singing duties of their hands, it was clear that there is still something unusually compelling in these infectious compositions, and luckily for us the band are still giving them the attention and audience they deserve.
A fantastic show, there was nothing average about this one.