Fans of melodic rock guitar music turned up in force when the guitar hero’s guitar hero Eric Johnson played at Birmingham Town Hall for the penultimate gig of his first major British tour.
Support act Tristan Mackay had the difficult task of warming up the audience, but he took to the task with aplomb. Using a number of looping and effects pedals, as well his own dextrous guitar and vocals he entertained the crowd with a number of songs, that showcased melody and imaginative arrangements.
The numbers ranged from the ballad of I Found You to the bluesy Wherever You Lay Your Head and the pop gospel sheen of Something Inside. This was mature music-making of the highest quality, and having gone from busking to playing in halls like this, his career can only blossom.
The main act continued the trend of quality music, with an introductory jam that led into Battle We Have Won.
With a career that has spanned three decades, and is now six solo albums down the line, Johnson and his trio played music from many genres, from straightforward rock to blues, soul, meditative acoustic music and jazz.
With support from bassist Chris Maresh and drummer Wayne Salzmann, they sounded like a more wide-ranging Cream, and the boundary crossing that went on during some numbers was always exhilarating, but at times the sheer number of notes became too much – although this is sometimes the case with rock trios. A fourth member on keyboards could have added more light and shade to the songs and get some of the self-indulgence in check.
Much of the music was Johnson’s own, but he also covered music by Jimi Hendrix and John Coltrane. Mr PC was transformed into a jazz rock arrangement, which gave plenty of room for both bass and drum solos.
The blues rock of Austen and Last House on the Block was well received, as were the fiery instrumentals such as Gem and Fatdaddy. But the band were at their best as an ensemble on the slower pop ballads, such as Forty Mile Town and Desert Rose.
The acoustic segment was also well received, with the likes of Song for Life, Divinae and Once Upon a Time in Texas on the running order.
The jazz rock of Manhatten and the dextrous rock of Zap showed the band in their best light, with some world class guitar playing and strong support from the bass and drums.
The encore of Hendrix’s Are you Experienced? sequed into the well known, grammy-award winning Cliffs of Dover and left the audience in little doubt about how Johnson earned his reputation.