Review: Planet Rocktober – O2 Academy, Bristol

Yet another casualty of the pandemic was the series of Planet Rocktober gigs, originally featuring Kenny Wayne Shepherd. The change of dates meant that the original headliners had to pull out of the rescheduled events, but able replacements were found and I attended a strong line-up mini festival headed by Reef but also featuring King King, When Rivers Meet, and openers The Damn Truth in a decidedly blues-led line-up.

Surprisingly the venue was far from full for such a stellar line-up and when The Damn Truth took to the stage (at a very early hour) the crowd was sparse. That certainly did not prevent the Canadians from giving it everything in a hugely enjoyable set. Kicking off with ‘This Is Who We Are Now” their flower power groove is infectious and in Lee-La Baum they have a front woman with huge power and range (not to mention some fine six-string skills). Surrounded by guitarist Tom Shemer, bassist PY Letellier, and drummer Dave Traina, they are as visually stunning as they are musically adept. This was the second time I had seen them and my first impression of a band that are on the rise was reinforced with every song. Closing song ‘Tomorrow’ made sure they left the stage to a loud ovation and many smiles.

Following them were previously two-piece, but tonight a full four-piece When Rivers Meet. The addition of a rhythm section thickens out the sound and provides a solid base for the husband and wife pairing of Grace and Aaron Bond to enrapture the audience with some deliciously raw guitar riffs and Grace’s wonderful vocals. It is a seductive combination. Aaron adds depth with backing vocals and Grace shows huge versatility in bringing out other stringed instruments such as a violin to ensure that every song had its own identity. I was totally addicted from set opener ‘Did I Break The Law’ and once out of the photo pit, found a vantage point to simply relax and enjoy every note.

Keeping the blues direction very much at the fore, King King took to the stage to their usual ‘Highway to Hell’ intro and played a similar set to that I loved at Firestorm Festival earlier this year. This is the third time that I have seen them since Stevie Nimmo joined the band and it is hard now to remember them without that additional layer and complexity. The first half of the set is more rock than blues for me. ‘(She Don’t) Gimme No Lovin’ and ‘Fire In My Soul’ certainly setting a fine pace. It is from the middle of the set however that things really take off; ‘Rush Hour’ is simply class and lapped up by the crowd; ‘Long History of Love’ brings the Hammond Organ to the fore as it swirls around the O2 in thick layers; ‘Whatever it Takes’ showcases the extra guitar with twin harmonies that delight; ‘You Stopped The Rain’ gives the crowd a chance to singalong and then, finally, Alan Nimmo decides to let rip with the solo of the night. Stevie takes his turn in the spotlight for a similarly extravagant solo on ‘I Will Not Fall’ and finally ‘Stranger To Love’ features a skilfully dynamic solo that rises and falls, leaving you desperate for a longer set as the band take a bow.

Finally to Reef. This is the first time I have ever seen them live and from the very first note, I am enraptured. Vocalist Gary Stringer prowls, leers, poses, and dances like a much younger frontman. Bassist Jack Bessant, complete with extravagant beard, takes up far more stage than his physical size alone would suggest possible, guitarists Jesse Wood and Amy Newton lay down riff after riff, and drummer Luke Bullen batters the hell out of his kit. I don’t think I have ever danced so much whilst trying to take photos as the opening three of ‘Shoot Me Your Ace’, ‘Naked’, and ‘Stone for Your Love’ get into your bones and take control.

It’s a long set of fifteen songs plus encore and each and every one keeps the crowd on its toes and exercises their voices. ‘Place Your Hands’ is the obvious high point and the place erupts, but other highlights include ‘Come Back Brighter’ and ‘Refugee’ in a setlist that covers their entire career. For an encore, we are treated to a spirited and raw cover of Fleetwood Mac’s ‘The Chain’ that ensures every single person present leaves with a smile and a sore throat.

Four great bands and some delicious blues. Such a shame more people didn’t take the opportunity to enjoy it!

Review and images – Rob Wilkins/Celtography 

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