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Review: Chris Rea at Birmingham Symphony Hall

You know what you are getting from a Chris Rea performance. Virtuoso slide guitar, gravelly, road worn vocals, a great backing band, and songs about love, family, friendship and the road – and this concert proved to be excellent entertainment from the start.

Support came from the Irish singer songwriter Colin MacLeod, who played a series of his own acoustic songs, such as Kicks in or Shake the Walls, but the highlight of his set was a radically reworked version of Bruce Springsteen’s Dancing in the Dark, with looped, slow electric guitar parts, and Macleod’s emotionally wracked vocals adding pathos to the song.

Chris Rea has had a long and storied career in music and has attracted a large and loyal following, as evidenced by the two sold out dates he played in Birmingham.

Although he has some recent health problems, his voice was still as strong as it has ever been and his guitar playing was as fluidly inventive as I have ever heard it.

He opened the set with songs from his most recent album, Road Songs for Lovers, with The Last Open Road being an upbeat opener.

With images and films projected behind him, and a lively moodily effective lighting set-up, there was also a lot happening on the stage visually.

Although the new songs were well received by the largely mature audience, it was the older stage favourites that had the loudest applause, so songs such as Josephine – with its changes from ballad to reggae and rock – had the loudest applause, as did its sister song Julia, which was presented as a lively crossover of gospel and Motown music.

However, Rea’s voice really came to life during the slower songs, such as Two Lost Souls, where the keyboards of Neil Drinkwater did much of the musical lifting, while his accordion led some of songs such as The Road Ahead to great effect.

Some other familiar songs received some rearrangements, with the normally Rolling Stone-like groove of Stainsby Girls becoming something of a torch song, before the drum heavy second half kicked in.

A series of his hits followed, with the loudest applause saved for his biggest to date, The Road To Hell, which closed the set before the encores of On the Beach and the almost obligatory Let’s Dance. Anyone waiting for Driving Home for Christmas was to be left disappointed.

A volunteer wrote this. Say thanks with a coffee.

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