Gig Review by Andrew Lindsay with Photography by John Bentley

Six months after his last UK appearance, Jonathan Wilson is back in town with what looks to be a different band and an ever so slightly improved video backdrop. Three keyboardists are in the line-up including Drew Erickson who played with Wilson as part of Roger Waters’ touring band. Ny Oh’s backing vocals are a particularly welcome addition. The setlist is largely unchanged (notably ‘Dear Friend’ is substituted for ‘Moses Pain’) and focusses on his recent Rare Birds album.

Jonathan Wilson, Manchester Gorilla

The 650 capacity Gorilla is nearly sold-out – “it’s all dudes in here”, observes Wilson as he surveys the increasingly sweaty and somewhat odorous crowd. The club is small, low ceilinged and tightly packed. “I like it all hot and sticky”, Wilson continues, “it conjures up Tallahassee, Florida”. Well it does until you walk outside into the Manchester rain.

The rumbling bass of ‘Trafalgar Square’ kicks off proceedings with the band creating a full, thick and somewhat murky sound. It is not until the melodic ‘Over the Midnight’ that Wilson does what he does best – stretching out on guitar with two stellar solos. ‘The Kinks-y ‘Miriam Montague’ is followed by one of the highlights of the new album: ‘There’s A Light’. The warmth of Wilson’s vocals envelope the upbeat lyrics and Ny Oh’s Beatle-esque ‘oohs and ahs’ complement perfectly.

Jonathan Wilson, Manchester Gorilla

Jonathan Wilson, Manchester Gorilla

‘Dear Friend’ provides the vehicle for the night’s guitar epic. It’s a tightly controlled adventure extending almost ten minutes and closes with just Wilson and the drummer bashing the hell out of their instruments. Glorious. ‘Desert Raven’ from 2011 is a Wilson classic. The cascading guitar riff underpinned by the rhythm section creates a monumental groove which can go on forever.

In contrast, ‘Sunset Blvd’ with Wilson on piano is a tad ponderous but leads to the highpoints of the show: ‘Loving You’ and ‘Angel’. On the former, Roger Waters’ ‘resident hippy’ (high chuckle-factor regarding that t-shirt on the merchandising stand) delivers a sublime spiritual solo. Ladies and gentlemen we really are floating in space. Do check out the album version with Laraaji’s chants and zither. The lush multi-tracked arrangement of the recorded version is of course missing tonight but this is a song which works in any context.

Jonathan Wilson, Manchester Gorilla

Jonathan Wilson, Manchester Gorilla

By this point Wilson has stripped down in the heat and bears more than a passing resemblance to David Gilmour circa 1974. A cover of ‘Fat Old Sun’ would work well at this point but equally fittingly we get ‘Angel’; a Fleetwood Mac song from the Bob Welch era. Perhaps Wilson was considered for Lindsey Buckingham’s recently vacated slot as he makes such a handsome fist of it. It’s a southern-fried interpretation reminiscent of Little Feat and delves into a funky instrumental jam with some climatic guitar/organ interplay.

Jonathan’s current tour takes him through to the end of September at which point he re-joins Roger Waters’ Latin American tour. Who knows what JW will be up to after that but whatever it is it will be well worth keeping an eye out for.

Setlist: Trafalgar Square; Me; Over the Midnight; Dear Friend; Miriam Montague; Living With Myself; There’s A Light; Dear Friend; Desert Raven; Sunset Blvd; Loving You; Angel; 49 Hairflips; Gentle Spirit; Valley of the Silver Moon; Ballad of the Pines.

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