|George Benson at the Royal Albert Hall|
Photo credit: Paul Wood
(Royal Albert Hall. 26 June 2018. Review by Georgina Williams)
As I took my seat in a what seemed to be a sold out Albert Hall, I noticed fairly quickly that I was outside the average age demographic of 50+. No matter. Despite not fitting within the age bracket of people who had been fans of George Benson since he released his first album in 1964, it was perhaps one of the most enjoyable concerts I have been to in a long time.
Benson swaggered on stage in a suitably suave black dinner jacket, oozing disco charm. “Not bad for 75,” the women beside me giggled, as he began with a rendition of Love Times Love complete with hip thrusts sending some in the audience into fits of “I love you George!”.
Next we had Breezin’, perhaps Benson’s most famous instrumental track. Benson took two tasteful solos on his signature semi-hollow Ibanez reminding many that he is at heart a jazz instrumentalist.
The setlist seemed to be built around contrast. After something more subdued and with perhaps less karaoke potential, the band would raise the roof with another classic such as Turn Your Love Around which had the whole audience up on their feet and dancing. The song featured a surprisingly burning piano solo from M.D and keys player David Garfield which sent the audience into a frenzy.
The band needed no time to warm up, they were in the pocket from the beginning. It was nice to hear some of the members really stretch out on some of the groovier tunes. Even Lady Love Me (One More Time) with nostalgic Earth Wind and Fire-esque synths and a fair bit of slap bass felt tight and fresh, not at all like a tired rendition of an ’80s classic.
It was also clear that this was not a “greatest hits” concert. Benson switched up the set list with two surprising songs. The first, a Wes Montgomery style cover of Norah Jones’s Don’t Know Why. This gave Benson a real chance to bring something new to his fans, despite the fact it was something they could all sing along to. Another refreshing moment was when he asked his young percussionist Liliana de los Reynes to join him on You Are The Love Of My Life. Her powerhouse vocals somewhat blew him out the water, but Benson made it clear he was proud and supportive of his young band member.
It seemed fitting that Benson received the Jazz FM ‘Impact’ Award after The Ghetto. This piece featured generous solos for Garfield on keys, Reynes on percussion and an extended solo from Khari Parker on drums, as it really was a jazz piece. Benson was credited by Jazz FM breakfast presenter Nigel Williams with “broadening the Church that is Jazz”, which after witnessing this genre bending musician I firmly agree with. Most of the audience were more interested in getting an encore, one last chance to dance to the sounds of their youth. The only real difference was people waved phone torches instead of lighters. Benson left the audience to be played off by the band with a cheeky smile full of life for someone who is approaching their ninth decade. He’s definitely still got it.
George Benson – guitar, vocals
Stanley Banks – bass
David Garfield – MD and keyboards
Thom Hall – keyboards
Michael O’Neill – guitar
Khari Parker – drums
Liliana de los Reynes – percussion
Categories: Live reviews