Review: The Phil Beer Band @ Lichfield Guildhall

Americana, country, folk, celtic and blues music were all in the mixing pot when the critically acclaimed musician Phil Beer returned to play at the Lichfield Guildhall.

Phil Beer. Pic: Brian Marks

Phil Beer. Pic: Brian Marks

Phil Beer is a leading light on the folk and roots circuit and his storied career has seen him playing with rock musicians such as Mike Oldfield, but he is perhaps best known for his work with the folk duo Show of Hands.

With a four piece band of drummer Steve Cricket, bassist Nick Quarmby, Melodean player Gareth Turner and violinist Olivia Dunn, the ensemble tackled songs by such luminaries as Randy Newman, Paul Simon, Steve Earle, Robbie Robertson and Bruce Springsteen.

Phil Beer started of both halves with acoustic sets. A dextrous version of Randy Newman’s Simon Smith and his Amazing Dancing Bear was followed by Cocaine Blues, an old blues song from the Reverend Gary Davies.

Something slightly different was played next with a guitar, drums and bass version of Paul Simon’s Still Crazy After All These Years which allowed the players to show off the jazzier side of their sound.

The instrumental wizardry of The Rocky Road to Milo showcased Phil Beer’s lead guitar and Olivia Dunn’s violin to good effect, while Steve Earle’s The Devil’s Right Hand was an all out country rock song.

The first half was concluded by Blind Willie Johnson’s I Can’t Keep From Crying, which in this instance was turned into an aural snarl with feral instrumentation in complete contrast to the message of the song.

The second half also featured songs from the classic American tradition, with John Hiatt’s Perfectly Good Guitar being the first song to feature the full band, while Lowell George’s Willing and songs by Jimmy Rogers and Big Bill Bronzy also helped to lift the tempo.

The band’s Accardian Driftwood was passionately delivered, before two Bruce Springsteen songs in Youngstown and No Surrender were both late set highlights.

Jackson Browne’s Before the Deluge was a more than fitting encore to this concert that married musical technique and imagination to a crowd pleasing setlist.