Sunday, November 1, 2009

The Spencer Davis Group - Live 2009.10.31 Blues Garage, Isernhagen, Germany

Artist: The Spencer Davis Group
Venue: Blues Garage
Location: Isernhagen, Germany
Date: 31 October 2009

I must admit that I know very little about the Spencer Davis Group. I know their singles, especially "Gimme Some Lovin'", but as far as members and albums and backstory I know practically nothing. Regardless, when I was invited to see the group in a well-regarded blues joint outside of Hannover, I couldn't say no (especially when nothing else was going on on Halloween in this town).

The venue is pretty cool. It's an old automotive workshop that was converted into a concert venue, and keeping with the theme, part of the stage and the mixing desk are made out of the front sections of old cars. The place fits maybe 500 people, and there were probably 400 there once the show started. Before coming to Germany, I would never have guessed that blues acts would draw such crowds here. Apparently, there's quite an audience for the genre. (I'm told blues is even bigger in Poland.) However, as seems to be the case with every concert I go to, I was one of the youngest people there. Whatever.

My limited knowledge and research tells me that the Spencer Davis Group of today bears little resemblance to the group of the same name from 40 years ago, when they made their hits in the UK. The organist, Eddie Hardin, was the only member other than Spencer himself that remained from the original days, but the other members were actually probably even better than Hardin.

Davis, despite being the bandleader, did not monopolize songwriting, introductions, lead singing, or solo parts, and I appreciate that. The second guitarist had a great voice, and even the bassist played a few songs solo that featured some fantastic fingerwork. An acoustic interlude featuring "Norwegian Wood" was also a lot of fun to see. There's no doubt that these musicians are phenomenally talented. Whatever they wanted to do, they could. Their jams were incredibly proficient, and they could make 40-year-old songs like "Gimme Some Lovin'" and "House of the Rising Sun" rock hard enough to still sound fresh.

However, despite being enthralled by the musicianship, only a few songs were actually structurally interesting. I know, we're talking about a blues-based band, but still, many of the structures and patterns were pretty tried-and-true. Worse, though, was the lyrical content. I'm not sure how many of the Germans have a clue what the band was singing about in English (although Davis himself can speak perfect German, as a result of studying linguistics in Berlin), but I could understand, and there was nothing there. Again, it's blues music, I know, but still. When given the opportunity to make something original and creative or at least slightly interesting and dynamic, why not take it? I mean, for example, the verses to "I'm a Man" are pretty good, but many of the songs were just standard male gaze formulas.

In any case, seeing live music is always fun when the band can rock, and the musicianship was top-notch. Some mixing, feedback, and amp problems put on a bit of a damper, but it didn't slow the band down. Standing up close to the band, I could see that most of the solos were done spontaneously, that is, Spencer would just give a bandmember a signal and they would kick off a solo, and then another signal and another member would start up. It was quite fluid but from afar you wouldn't even notice.

Score: B

P.S. Davis clearly is a fan of Germany, and especially this venue: in 2006, he released a live album recorded at the same place.

P.P.S. During a break, I went up and introduced myself to Davis in English by saying I'd come all the way from Kansas to see him. His linguistic skills have not weakened with time, as he called me out on a grammatical mistake I made that is typical for Germans to make, noting that I must already be thinking like the Germans.