Otis Gibbs, the Sour Mash Trio

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Review Date September 8, 2011

Review By Alan Harrison

Location The Live Theatre, Newcastle

It was a pleasant surprise to see that advance ticket sales had moved this concert from the intimate upstairs room to the much larger theatre on the ground floor. Local band the Sour Mash Trio got the evening off to a rip-roaring start with their take on roots-rock and rockabilly with forty-five minutes of their own articulate dance tunes and a few classic Cash, Jones and Slaid Cleaves songs thrown in for good measure. With songs as good as Strawberry Wine, Travelling and the tearjerker Empty Bottles And Broken Hearts they won’t be playing “support’ for much longer. You heard it here first! Davy from the Sour Mash Trio had earlier teased the audience that Otis had shaved his beard off and was going to wear a silver jumpsuit; so there was a collective sigh and giggle when the Bard of Wannamaker, Indiana arrived on stage, beard intact and wearing his usual work clothes. After greeting some friends in the audience he opened his set with the rye observations of Small Town Saturday Night, which many of us could relate to. This was followed by the touching and graceful Kansas City whose sentiment is well suited to Gibbs’ grizzled voice; think of Tom Waits actually carrying a tune. Those who have seen him before know what a great raconteur Otis is and his stories always mix just the right amount of humour and pathos to keep everyone in the palm of his hand. This was evident in the well told story leading up to The People’s Day with its chorus of: “One day our whispers/will be louder than your screams/the People’s Day will come.’ To the cynics among us, this is a throwback to the protest songs of the 1960s … but what’s wrong with that, if the man has something to say? And he has! And we sung the chorus with gusto. One of my favourite songs on the recent JOE HILL’S ASHES is Something More and tonight’s version and the story of getting old without noticing until your friends begin dying made it incredibly poignant and even better than the recorded version. We had songs about pawn shops, Greyhound buses and union strikes plus stories about “slappers’ in Norwich and his first ever visit to a British football match as the night flew by. Otis even slipped in a couple of new songs, one of which was Caroline a simple but powerful song about a battered wife, that was heartbreaking and beautiful in equal measures but deserves to be heard by the whole world, not just 200 people in a lovely theatre. The concert came to a charming end when Otis left the stage to wander among the crowd, serenading the multitude with Charles Bridge before disappearing through the doors (to the merch table!). Otis Gibbs and the Sour Mash Trio in the same venue on a summer’s evening was a pairing that legends are made of.

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