Monday, November 18, 2013

Tex Max

When I told my friends I was bound for London this November to see Texas, nobody made any obvious geographical jokes. What a number of them did ask, though, was ‘Are they still going?’

The answer, as it turns out, is yes. They’re going strong.

They’ve been away, there’s no denying that. They’d been a favourite of mine for many years and then they disappeared. I missed their presence in the charts and then I guess I assumed they weren’t coming back. But now they’ve returned, with fresh music and masses of energy.

Makes you feel old and young at the same time. Old, because you realise just how long they’ve been a familiar friend in your ear. Young, because for a band so rooted in the blues – for their first three albums anyway – they sure know how to throw a party.

The venue played its part. Live at the Hammersmith Apollo feels really alive. It’s capacious enough to accommodate some sizable names and lend the show the air of a grand occasion, while retaining the character of an old theatre to give a sense of a more intimate setting. Last time I was there was to see Sheryl Crow and she rocked the place. When I arrived I think I was buzzing with memories of that show.

Sharleen Spitieri and company were not to be outdone. They were as happy to be back as we were glad to see them – and their enthusiasm infected the crowd from the start. Credit to the warm-up act – an outfit called A Girl Called Johnny – who made their mark and left a positive impression with their 30-minute set. They struck me as a talented trio and a good fit for the headline act without being clones. Their lead singer returned to duet with Sharleen on a track they co-wrote – the title track from the new Texas album, The Conversation.

Ahead of that there was a decent mix of old and new, the band hopping fairly freely around their back catalogue in between what seemed quite clearly designated sections for the new material. At one point someone in the crowd shouted out for Rick’s Road and the band obliged by striking into So Called Friend, the opening – and probably best-known - number from that album. Which lent the impression of an impromptu, spur of the moment deal – an impression only enhanced when one of the guitarists cocked up and Sharleen called a halt, teased the poor guy mercilessly and restarted in the middle. Taking the attitude of the show must go on, but not before we’ve had a laugh and joke about it. And inadvertently adding to the party atmosphere.

Sharleen’s a funny lass. When she speaks she’s like a wee pint-sized Lorraine Kelly with a fondness for dropping f-bombs and a wicked sense o’ humour. Heck, I’d get up to watch her breakfast show. Highly entertaining. She has a fine singing voice too and is more than just the lead singer – she’s pretty much the face and the sound of the band. Kind of like Debbie Harry was to Blondie. To the extent that I wondered why the hell she went and did a solo album a little while back. Don’t get me wrong, it’s a nice album but I always got the feeling it would have been just as good if recorded by Texas. Anyway, no disrespect to the other musicians but she’s the one bounding around the stage, she’s the one who gave the show its character.

As to the rest of the set, personally, I’d have welcomed another song or two from Rick’s Road as it’s my favourite album of theirs, but in an hour and half there’s only really time for the big hits. Hence, second album, Mother’s Heaven, was entirely neglected – which was a shame. But at least we were treated to two from Southside, including their debut single – I Don’t Want A Lover – with its rich Ry Cooder-esque intro and thumping rock beat sounding bigger and better than ever.

Obviously, main focus was on the major hits from White On Blonde and The Hush, the heights of their commercial success – as well as a couple from the later and really rather excellent Red Book. And sure, those albums abandoned the blues in favour of more polished pop production, but even the more watered-down tracks sounded a little bit rock ‘n’ roll in the hands of these great live performers. Plus they stuck to a strictly upbeat tempo – none of your wishy-washy slow numbers. Save those for the 300-mile train journey home when you want to sit back and relax and reflect on a great night in the big city.

Texas may not be the force in the charts they were once upon a while ago. But there’s a reason this band from Scotland chose such a big name. They have a big sound and a huge personality.

Loved ‘em.


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