Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Black Country Communion - Live Over Europe (2011)

I'm a fan of Black Country Communion, and I've been following Joe Bonamassa's career for the better part of the last decade, so you'd expect me to get a kick out of this band's first concert DVD. Even so, I was actually surprised by how much I dug it - it's just that good! This is a fantastic band, and they're really tight, so I wasn't sure they could really improve on their formula on stage. They don't really need to, but watching these guys at work - and it's very clear that they enjoy playing in this band - totally rubs off on you.

I can't believe how much Glenn Hughes drives his voice, it's a wonder he's not hoarse after three songs. Clearly, he's a consummate professional. And being the elder statesman of the group, having played in Deep Purple back in the '70s, he takes control as the frontpiece for the band. Meanwhile, beside him, Joe wails on that guitar. For once the focus isn't entirely on him (as it is in his solo career), and his virtuosity is just one piece of the overall musical experience, yet he's my main draw to the band. Joe Bonamassa is a real role model, not just because he's the greatest guitar player alive today, but because he's also the hardest working guitar player alive today. Filling out the group are the son of the legend, Jason Bonham on drums, and the understated keyboard stylings of Derek Sherinian (known for his work in the band Dream Theater).

I hate to compare BCC to Led Zeppelin because really, they're two very different bands, and any comparison of a "revival" group to one of the legends is bound to come off as insincere hyperbole. But even aside from the fact that Zeppelin's drummer's son is in Black Country Communion, you have to note that there are some similarities. They've got two hard rocking albums under their belt in less than a year, due in no small part to the spontaneous charisma they have together as musicians. But Kevin Shirley deserves mention, too, as the band's producer, and the man who helped put the project together, like directing a river towards the sea. His vision was to create a band that produces the kind of music that so many people still love to listen to, but isn't really being made today - that is to say, contemporary classic rock that is not so much a nostalgia trip (cue endless dinosaur tours) as fresh insight from the same perspective that drove the musicians of ages past. As Glenn Hughes likes to say, it's not about the past or the future, but the present.

Live Over Europe is culled from a handful of shows across Europe, which gives the performances some visual variety that is nice and refreshing from a live DVD. The band plows through many great songs from their not huge but just big enough repertoire, with very little need to borrow songs from other sources. Highlights for me include a balls to the wall version of Beggarman (which is a kickass song to begin with), some inspired soloing on Song of Yesterday, one of the band's songs that sounds most similar to Joe's solo work, and the heartfelt Cold, which Glenn introduces as a song about the friends we've lost that we never had a chance to say goodbye to. These songs are all very tight, but room is made for some inspired jamming here and there.

In a couple places I heard some familiar riffs - like Rock and Roll, and one of the songs opens with a drumbeat that channels When The Levee Breaks, and Derek leads one song into a coda that is an unmistakable homage to The Who's Won't Get Fooled Again. But these are brief and exciting moments that only emphasize how strong the band's original material is, that they spend very little time deviating from the original and nonderivative music that comes naturally out of the four of them playing together. Even when Joe brings in The Ballad of John Henry from his solo catalog, he makes it sound unique, with less recycling than ever (not that I hate recycling; Joe is, after all, as accomplished a cover artist as he is a songwriter). And though the concert ends with a rousing encore of Burn (written during Glenn's days in Deep Purple) that totally got me hopping in my seat, the credits leave you off with another song from the band almost as if to remind you that hey, this is Black Country Communion you're listening to, and nobody else.

And it all works because the music is just that good. And seeing how much the band loves playing it, and how honest and straightforward the BCC project is, you can't help getting even more enthusiastic about it. I don't know what's in the cards for this band's future, but I am looking forward to hearing what they do next. And maybe if I'm lucky, I might get a chance to see them live, if they do an extensive tour of the States some time in the future. I'll tell you what, though, these guys are seasoned pros (Kevin Shirley most definitely included). So unlike that last great new rock band that I got excited about, that was chewed up and spit out by the music biz, I know these guys know what they're doing, and whatever they do, it'll be exactly the right thing for them - and that's the best thing for us, the fans, too.

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