Wilko Johnson: Fleece, Bristol – live review
Feb 27th 2013
In a recent radio interview Wilko Johnson eloquently stated that because he had been given months to live because of his cancer that, ironically, the death sentence had sharpened his life.
Tonight he proves this with a gig that is not only riven with emotion for the audience but is also a life affirming rush that is so central to all great rock n roll. No one here really knows what to expect, it’s a bit like the last stand of the Ruts guitar hero, Paul Fox a few years ago, when a ghost like figure summed up superhuman powers and celebrated the music of his great band with Henry Rollins guesting on vocals for one last time. The sheer bravery of these guitar gunslingers is breathtaking and we are here to salute Wilko, the bug eyed high plains drifter who redesigned the guitar in the early seventies,
Wilko is no ghost though and tonight he is on fire. For 90 minutes he zig zags across the stage with that manic, bug eyed, brilliance that has been his trademark since he hit the scene in the early seventies in Dr. Feelgood.
In 2013 and time running out, his music sounds even more urgent and vital than ever.
It’s kinda sad that his illness has finally seen him get the recognition that he has deserved for decades but maybe that process had already happened with the wonderful Oil City Confidential film and Zoe Howe’s great book on him a few years ago that documented Dr. Feelgood and their guitar player’s rise out of the swampland of Canvey Island and their arrival in London and kick a moribund pub rock scene up a few gears and pave the way for punk.
In this musical revolution Wilko was the unspoken lynchpin. His former band may not have been punk per se but his gunslinger guitar antics and speed freak stage chops were a key part of the DNA of the upcoming revolution. Tonight in Bristol, we are crammed in paying homage to this idiosyncratic figure who is doing his last tour around the UK in a celebration of his supremely gifted guitar skills.
His telecaster is still held like a machine gun and his serrated finger assault on the taut strings is still the key. The rhythm and lead thing, that he copped from the Pirates guitar man Mick Green, before honing it down to a wired perfection is still stunning to watch and the freak energy is still pouring out of him.
Wilko has spent decades in these packed houses, the long and winding road of jammed and sweaty boozers. With his trademark black suit, tight band and vicious riffs he is the living embodiment of the high octane that was long overlooked but has lived long enough to get his lap of honor as the remarkably gifted guitar player who created a new way of playing.
Wilko is on fire tonight. Locked in with his deadly rhythm section of Dylan Howe (son of the Yes man) and the freakishly dexterous bass skills of Norman Watt Roy, he is leader of a power trio like no other.
It’s an emotionally fraught evening. No one knows whether to laugh or cry or raise one last glass to the man who brought so many good times our way. More than a rock n roll show, or a living obituary, this is a great gig from one of our homegrown heroes, the last of a dying breed because they sure don’t make them like Wilko anymore.
For once this is a farewell tour played out for all the right reasons and one that we wish will last forever.