Review: Robert Jon & The Wreck – St. Lukes, Glasgow

“You can leave your worries at the door” – the perfect lyric to describe the cathartic qualities of a live show by Californian kings of modern-day rock & soul: Robert Jon & The Wreck. Taken from the title track to the most recent opus, ‘Ride Into The Light’, it very simply sums up the healing powers of a night in the company of Robert Jon Burrison and his incredible band of brothers known as The Wreck. And with this being their fourth UK headline tour in 24 months – not to mention their insane run of EU dates and festival appearances – Robert Jon & The Wreck make the output of “The hardest working man in show business”, James Brown, look positively lethargic by comparison.

Relentless touring and good old-fashioned word-of-mouth have meant that each tour brings an upgrade in venue size and tonight the quintet are playing their largest-ever show north of the border, and somewhat fittingly it is in the breath-taking surroundings of a former church – complete with pulpit, stained glass windows, and a pipe organ. The acoustics in the venue, as expected, are glorious. As is the adjacent pub The Winged Ox, winner of ‘Dog Friendly Pub of the Year 2017’ no less.

The role of special guests for this 11-date UK tour falls to North Carolina soul-rock outfit Caitlin Krisko and The Broadcast. And along with the spiritual, soulful tones of the headliner, this is a double bill made in Muscle Shoals-heaven. One of the most heartwarming facets of social media is watching the joy of overseas bands – especially those from North America – when they finally make it to the UK & Europe to play live music. Considering how precarious the notion of overseas bands actually travelling to these shores got during the uncertainties faced by the live music scene in the aftermath of the pandemic, and how much of a supposed threat the possibility of not being able to get tour insurance was, how great is it to see Caitlin Krisko and The Broadcast acting as tourists and beaming with joy in their social media posts? Visits to Stonehenge, Liverpool, Newcastle, and just prior to tonight’s show – Edinburgh, look amazing, although when in Cockburn Street in Edinburgh they did fail to match The Vision and the Scarlet Witch by getting their kebab deep-fried. Shame…shame…shame. Caitlin does get a pass though because she has Scottish heritage on her late Mother’s side, and there is a touching moment during the gig tonight when she mentions that she feels her Mother’s presence in the room and how happy she would have been that Caitlin was performing in Scotland. And what a performance it was.

Led by the mindblowing Caitlin Krisko on vocals, Caitlin Krisko and The Broadcast are a stunning experience in a live setting. One of those bands that you wish you had been with from day one if only to brag that you had been there since the beginning, and say with smug satisfaction “See, I told you”. A band capable of whisking the audience away to somewhere more laidback and blissful, and blending many different flavours, CK&TB makes it look easy. They really do. Set-opener ‘Half Asleep’ is an amazing genre-melding moment that packs so much into four minutes; including a Sly and the Family Stone touch here and there; some tasty slide guitar courtesy of Aaron Austin; and a hypnotic performance from Caitlin as she sways in time to a slow-burning call-to-arms that tips the hat to Gil Scott-Heron’s iconic ‘The Revolution Will Not Be Televised’ poem/song with the line “When the war is televised now is the time we gotta rise into a revolution…”. ‘Blue Heron’ quickly follows on and even this early during the set, it is evident that there is great chemistry between the band. Rockier than the funk and soul of ‘Half Asleep’, there are some lovely rolling guitar licks from Austin and a vocal performance from Caitlin that at times spark comparisons with Susan Tedeschi, Norah Jones, and even Robert Plant (the latter, especially on some howls toward the end of the song).

With an almost Gospel-like vibe in places, ‘Haunted By You’ slows the pace down a notch, and Caitlin’s otherworldly vocals (a mix of fragility and grit), Aaron Austin’s wonderfully expressive guitar playing, and lush vocal harmonies – all make for a few minutes to send shivers up and down the spine. 2022’s ‘Devil On Your Side’ has a funky cocksure strut to it, and the band changes direction multiple times during the song – always a great thing – but it is the soaring, uplifting vocals from Caitlin that make you want to stand on a mountain edge with your arms wide open in triumph. The handclapping new single ‘Operator’ shows the funkier side of the band, and it’s going to be interesting to see what the band is cooking up on the next album. As the set draws to an end, the jaw-dropping epic ‘Led Blood’ (touches of Zeppelin’s ‘No Quarter’ in places) makes an appearance and brings with it a killer mid-section where Caitlin takes a step into the wings and leaves the spotlight on the lamentful guitar from Aaron, and hypnotic, tribal drumming from Michael W. Davis. Throw in a shit-kicking version of Zeppelin’s ‘Rock and Roll’, and boot-stomping set-closer ‘Fighting the Feeling’ and the set can only be described as bordering on perfection. A swift return to these shores seems imminent with dates in 2024 on the horizon. Watch this space as Caitlin Krisko and The Broadcast are that new band that you have been looking for these last few years.

Opening with the urgent, guitar frenzy of ‘Pain No More’ (the same track also opens the current album ‘Ride Into The Light’) Robert Jon & The Wreck are not hanging around. A fiery opening salvo of slide guitar from Henry James Schneekluth that sizzles and if you need proof that not all guitar heroes need to come sporting long hair, aviator shades, and black leather trousers, then the quiet, unassuming Schneekluth is your port of call. Total sidebar, but how great is it to see both guitarists Schneekluth and Robert Jon – along with bassist Warren Murrel – plugged in the old-school way with long guitar leads rather than going wireless? Still a buzz when a guitarist changes guitars and that initial hit of feedback kicks in when he plugs in the new guitar. Probably the best middle-finger retort to that person who…“Dropped my heart like it didn’t mean nothin’/Didn’t watch it hit the ground/Dust it all off, said it’s already broken/Like you’d know a good man from a can ya kick around”, ‘Pain No More’ is actually a really uplifting song from Burrison – a vocalist with arguably the warmest archetypal everyman male vocals around today (okay, a three-way tie with Jake Smith/The White Buffalo, and Charlie Starr from Blackberry Smoke).

Never one for more chit-chat than necessary, Robert Jon leads the band into the feelgood anthem ‘Do You Remember’ that instantly sparks memories of warm summer days and dicking around as teenagers without a care in the world. Again, the lead guitar work from Henry is exemplary and with the guitar harmonies between him and Robert Jon, it is pretty hard not to make an Allman Brothers Band comparison. ‘Tired Of Drinking Alone’ is always great fun and with the simple but effective keys – from new guy Jake Abernathie – during the quieter moments, there is a soupçon of  Bob Seger to a song which on the surface seems quite light but when you dig deeper you discover it has a bit of heartache to it. Taken from 2020’s tour-de-force ‘Last Light On The Highway’, the song was perfect for the lockdown, and if you have yet to check out the accompanying video filmed in isolation, then remedy that at once. Great fun indeed. And how do you follow up a song called ‘Tired Of Drinking Alone’? With ‘Blame It On The Whiskey’ of course. Featuring another killer guitar solo from Henry James, it’s a stunning example of what happens when musicians lock into a groove and let fly.

Special mention to the backbone of the band: Andrew Espantman on drums and background vocals, and the ever-smiling Warren Murrel on bass who might just be the only guy who can get away with wearing shades onstage and not look like a douche (Slash is excluded, naturally). Murrel (think Tom Cruise when he becomes all confident in ‘Risky Business’, mixed with Ferris Bueller) is obviously having a blast and enjoying every minute spent onstage. Keeping it fresh, new tracks ‘Ride Into The Light’ and ‘Don’t Look Down’ are delicious. ‘Don’t Look Down’ in particular stands out. More classic American rock than the majority of material from RJ&TW, it packs a bit of a Montrose feel and Espantman totally owns the stage during it. The dustbowl-tinged ‘Bring Me Back Home Again’ is another highlight from the new album, and live it has more guts than a slaughterhouse floor. Jake Abernathie shines on this one and he takes his moment in the spotlight with ease. With a lovely, meandering feel to the song, it flows perfectly into another new one; the gorgeous ‘Who Can You Love’ – which is perhaps the best song that Glenn Frey and Don Henley never wrote. ‘Oh Miss Carolina’ is still as rousing as it ever was, and the audience takes the opportunity to flex their vocal muscles. The band takes the opportunity to flex their muscles on the 20-minute jam that is ‘Cold Night’ and at times the musicianship coming from the stage is staggering. Never straying into self-indulgent territory, it’s simply a perfect way for each of the five players to shine.

When there is a brief pause before introducing the final track – ‘Shine A Light With On Me Brother’ – someone in the crowd shouts out “Freebird!” which is met by the gruff retort from Robert Jon of “C’mon, you are really gonna say that to me…Fuck off!”. Heckler/comedian dealt with, check, and mate. In this setting, the only thing missing from the riotous ‘Shine A Light With On Me Brother’ is the spirit of James Brown appearing in the pulpit asking Robert Jon “Do you see the light?!” and a beam of light highlighting the frontman before he goes cartwheeling through the congregation in true Joliet Jake-style. Nothing can follow ‘Shine A Light With On Me Brother’, so all that is left is for Robert Jon & The Wreck to stand and soak up the applause from an audience that keeps coming back tour after tour, and in larger numbers. One of the most exciting live acts on the live scene today, and be thankful that the UK and Europe is their playground.

Remaining UK and European tour dates:

9/24/23 – Folkestone, UK – Quarterhouse
9/27/23 – Le Thor, FR – Le Sonograf
9/28/23 – Talcy (Blois), FR – Le Quai’Son
9/29/23 – Penmarch, FR – Cap Caval
9/30/23 – Herent, BE – GC De Wildeman
10/1/23 – Winterbach, DE – Strandbar 51
10/2/23 – Salzburg, AT – Rockhouse
10/3/23 – Rimsting, DE – Feuerwehr
10/4/23 – Frankfurt, DE – Nachtleben
10/5/23 – Seon, CH – Konservi Seon
10/6/23 – Basel, CH – Atlantis
10/7/23 – Torgau, DE – Kulturbastion Torgau
10/8/23 – Fulda, DE – Kulturzentrum

Review – Dave

Live images – Dave Jamieson

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