Wilko Johnson: London KoKo March 2013 – live review
Feb 6th 2013
There he goes zig zagging across the stage with that manic leer across his face.
It's one of the most iconic moves in rock n roll, the Chuck Berry duck walk amphetamined up with a mid seventies intensity that, in the hands of Wilko, looks cool as fuck. His body defines his sound with every piece of rhythm shrapnel running through his lanky frame and driving him across the stage.
Every twitch, every move is greeted with rousing and heartfelt cheer as the packed house in KoKo pays tribute to one of the greats.
It's fair to say that Wilko is one of the key players of his generation- the bridge between the Rolling Stones take on prime time R n B and the punks. Tonight only underlines this. Far from a wake this a celebration and as his guitar does that unique chopping thing your heart races, and as he goes through all his party tricks from the machine gun clatter to the blues licks to the pure feral rhythm you feel that primal rush. Of course there is emotion in the room, how could the not be? We are here to say goodbye and thanks for the great stuff to Wilko but he's having none of it and is racing through the set with the same great playing and fierce energy that inspired us all decades ago.
For my generation Dr. Feelgood started the whole damn thing off. The story of punk always mentions them as a footnote but they were the initiators. When Stupidity got to number one that was the revolution. A stripped down, raw primal music played by rough geezers in sharp suits recording a live album was somehow at number one way before punk…Dr. Feelgood started the whole damn thing off and were not just one of loads of pub bands 'paving the way'. The best bands in punk were touched by them and their DNA was everywhere from the Clash and the Jam to the Stranglers and then on into post punk with Gang Of Four and further into Steve Albini and modern guitar players who worship at the alter of shrapnel rhythm.
Everyone claims everyone is an influence but standing here tonight watching Wilko you can hear it all from the blistered hands of the man himself,
I'm thinking all this tonight as Wilko plays an astonishing show, he may have months live, but on that stage right now he is so alive it's putting other performers to shame. There is no milking the moment, no tears- just a great, tough rock n roll show that sees him finally recognised by the mainstream after years of being a well kept secret for the faithful.
Of course when it's this busy you can't get to the stage front and watch those fingers hit the strings, creating those burning rhythms, and you don't get to see how he uses every inch of the stage, surfing on the power of the music but who cares? It's great that he sold out a big hall and feels the respect of music heads – the most knowledgeable of audiences who know a real master.
The band are of course, gloriously tight, Dylan Howe is the perfect drummer- his father may be in Yes but he is operating at this end of rock n roll with a perfect understanding of those bastardized blues skips and rhythms that sounded so revolutionary when the Feelgoods headed out of Canvey Island all those years ago. Norman Watt Roy is still the dexterous bass wizard, the only bass player I've ever seen JJ Burnell look on in awe. His spidery fingers picking out those speedy walking blues that give the fluidity to Wilko's chopping and running guitar lines. Wilko's rhythm and lead thing is everywhere, Chaka Chaka Chaka wang! Insanely tight and superbly intuitive, no-one else can play like this- he makes the complex sound simple and his restless playing that rewrote the rule book is underlined over and over this evening.
Strip away the reason for this gig and the sadness of the near end of one of our greats and you got a killer band, honed by years of touring finally getting the nod for their greatness. They bring on Alison Moyett for the encore so that Wilko can relive his Dr Feelgood days of manic sideman running backwards and forwards on the stage, she delivers but this is Wilko's night- no flannel, no bull shit just natural talent.
Even a broken string can't deter Wlko, he can't string it up like he once could because he hasn't got his glasses on! but carries on typically relentless and the 1000 arms raised in salute at the end of the set carry the emotion of a football crowd- genuine moving stuff which the man in black shoots away with a killer version of Back In The Night.
It's hard to believe that I may never see Wilko again. There are only a handful of gigs left and then he's off to the great encore in the sky but if tonight is going to be the end then that was some curtain call and I would just like to say Wilko thanks for everything and every time I play my telecaster I will think of you and how you made the guitar not only a weapon but a pleasure to listen to again.