Thursday, September 1, 2016

Glenn Hughes - Solo and Superb In San José

Photo By Holger Kling
It's not easy to get me to put ink to paper these days (ink to paper, who am I fooling, right?), but when something strikes me as so important that I can afford to lose some sleep and some moments of productivity, then I can justify bellying up to the keyboard.

#rockaintdead. There, I said it, I've been saying it for ages, and now I'm joined in saying it by my very dear friend, Glenn Hughes, as he not only espouses it, but he also proves it every night out on his first ever American tour as a solo artist.

I've never seen Hughes better than on this night at The Ritz in downtown San José, California.

I first laid eyes on Glenn Hughes when he was in Deep Purple, on February 13, 1974 at a big hockey arena in the Midwest of America located at Dayton, Ohio. It's somewhat ironic that they are tearing down my hallowed home of early rock just this week, after an incredible run that began when The Rolling Stones desecrated the site in 1964. As one of the first musicians I saw playing on that stage, Glenn Hughes is still defining not just what rock is, but where it's at. There's nothing retro about what I saw in San Jose, California last night, it was state of the art.

He could have played it safe, and played a set of wall to wall Deep Purple and Black Country Communion, perhaps his most commercially successful products, but no - whether it was when he was deconstructing his reputation with a fall from grace so large he's today able to quip, "I don't remember the eighties," or in choosing a band challenging setlist comprised of selections from every era of his 47 year career, Glenn Hughes has never played it safe. It's go for the throat, or don't go at all.

Photo By Gavin Lowery
To those ends, Hughes has with him a band to die for. Soren Anderson has been with Glenn on and off for the last ten years, and he's a brilliant right hand man, not just delivering on the music side, but also keeping the stage balanced with a fabulous combination of musical chops and style of performance. It would be easy to get totally bowled over by a personality as large as Glenn Hughes's, but Anderson has the looks, sounds, and confidence to keep that from happening. I'm almost in stitches waiting hear the album they've created together, Resonate, that will see its release on November 4th on the Frontiers label. I'm hearing from sources close to the project that it is the heaviest solo Hughes we've yet heard, and isn't that what we've all been waiting to hear?

On drums we have the larger than life Pontus Engborg, and at a towering six foot four the Swedish stickman commands the throne like a king. His exuberance, power, and precision are perfect for the job. Like Anderson, Engborg is as entertaining as he is musical, and he's definitely the man for the job.

We arrived at the gig early enough to catch the band doing their pre-VIP meet and greet soundcheck, and got a preview of what was in store. Hughes was onstage, still critiquing and fine tuning the band a month into the tour, and you can tell that his attention to detail pays off in big dividends, as the band is as powerful as a locomotive, and still sophisticated and precise. We stuck around to witness the meet and greet, and while these are always a point of contention for some purists, it was clear that both the band and the fans were having a great time communing with "The Voice Of Rock," so who's to judge. Check it out when it comes your way, it's more than worth it, and the package the band gives away is most generous.

Photo By Stewart Westwood
When we walked into the club, Glenn looked up from their intense soundcheck long enough to give me a hearty welcome, and to tell me he's soon be sending me the tracks for his upcoming studio set, which this band plus keyboard wiz Lachy Doley have just completed before this tour began, and Hughes's excitement abut the set was palpable.

We didn't get a taste of the new sounds on this evening (one can't let the cat out of the bag on a new project unless one wants it on YouTube months before release), but what we did get was a career retrospective that was mind blowing in it's depth and coherency. It's remarkable that the first song Hughes ever wrote, the Trapeze classic, "Medusa", sits so well with the latest material he's recorded forty years later, but somehow it all works.

Kicking off the show, it's "Way Back To The Bone" from 1972, then it's ten years later with the Hughes/Thrall classic track "Muscle And Blood" from that great one off album from 1982, and Hughes and company are in it to the hilt. In spite of a heart surgery, and double knee replacement since I last was him perform, Glenn Hughes continues to be a force of nature. His vocals grew increasingly powerful as the night progressed, and he stalked the stage with the energy and passion of a man forty years younger.

Then it's into the twenty-first century with "Orion" from 2005's Soul Mover album, and it's to Soren Anderson's great credit that he not only covers the bases of so many great guitarists that came before him in Hughes's various iterations and bands, but he manages to change up everything just enough so that his personality as a player shines through, and this points straight to the fact that this coming up solo album from Hughes will be a treat, as it's the first record with the man for Anderson.

Photo By David Wala
A few songs later we get our first jolt of Deep Purple, and "Stormbringer" was just that. The crowd went absolutely bonkers as Anderson whipped out the opening chords, and then Hughes's freight train, Orange Amps based bass tone thundered through the mix, Engborg pounded out the groove, and all was well in the valley. Rock royalty was witnessed, and all joined in to celebrate the spectacle.

"Medusa" has long been a centerpiece of any Hughes show for years, and tonight was no exception. After Glenn talked the audience through another sermon of peace, love, and happiness, he spoke of a young man in his mother's kitchen writing songs for his first band at the tender age of 17. If you weren't aware of the song's heritage and history, you'd never known it wasn't written last week, and this band manages to make everything sound up to date and born again. The kids have got nothing on this one.

In advance of next years return, Black Country Communion was represented with a raging version of "One Last Soul" from the band's 2010 debut, and it never fails to get the crowd swaying with it's huge groove, and sensual melodies. Then Anderson throws on a flashy white Strat to round out the set with the title track from "Soul Mover."

Before you know it the main set is done, and the band is off the stage. There is never, not for one second any question about encores. Everyone knows they are coming, and everyone plays their part in this vaunted piece of rock ritual. Lighters come out, fists are raised in the air, and the volume of the room goes up accordingly.

Hughes rips into his brand new Yamaha signature bass, and you know you're on your way back to the "Black Country". Again, it's up to Anderson to conjure the sounds and signature riffs of another, and he does Joe Bonamassa proud with a careening solo that raises the whole affair up another notch, and you're left wondering if there is anything this band can't do. They're left with only one place to go, and when Anderson tears off the intro to "Burn", it's all over but the crying. This is one of those shows you just hate to see end, but it's time to go, and the house lights are on.

Since we're now rating gigs in terms of not just performance (this gig report is also running simultaneously at MetalTalk.Net), but also volume and sound, let's take a moment to discuss this. The Ritz in San José is a square box of a room that is long and narrow, and in the hands of a lesser soundman, it could have been tough to contain the sheer horsepower of this power trio, but the stalwart crew was more than up to the task, and it sounded very good. Hughes was raving about the sound of his bass rig in the room at soundcheck, and you could see, feel, and hear it in his performance. He was pumped up by what he heard, and it played straight into his performance, and it's seldom noted, but while the world knows Hughes is as great a singer that has ever walked the planet, he is very underrated as a bassist. All this being said, it was as loud as Gideon's Trumpet, and it rang like a bell. Fantastic stuff, the stuff rock is made of when it's made right.


Way Back To the Bone
Muscle and Blood
Touch My Life
First Step of Love
Can't Stop The Flood
One Last Soul
You Keep On Moving
Soul Mover


Black Country