If you feel, as I do, that ‘Tenderness’ is one of the best albums of the year, then this European tour (including just three UK dates) from Duff McKagan is an essential event. Why? Well, the band that Shooter Jennings has behind him, the cool cats who helped lay down the album, are a fuckin’ machine! These guys are so tight live you couldn’t wedge a sheet of paper between them.
Imagine The Band, The Stones at their peak, or even early 90’s The Black Crowes. It’s no coincidence that Duff hooked up with his long time friend Shooter and his band to sprinkle magic on a rootsy, laid back record full of emotion, and for want of a better word… tenderness.
On this tour, the band will be doing 2 sets every night. I’ve seen them do this before, at an album release show for Hellbound Glory at The Whisky-A-Go-Go a couple of years ago. First, they are opening with Shooter, then a full set with Duff. Who knows if they will do this again? This could be the only tour these guys do, and even though the tickets were a hefty £40, I felt it was an experience that I could not miss.
Academy 3 apparently holds 950 punters, although it certainly looks smaller. It is dark, rectangular and has a great atmosphere. You could call this an intimate show for a man who has been playing stadiums with Guns n’ Roses. But for Shooter Jennings and his band, this is probably about average.
The band open with ‘Bound Ta Git Down’, a boogie-woogie, barroom blast. The ever cool Shooter, shades permanently glued to his head, tinkles some ivories as his band jam out behind him.
The likes of ‘Denim & Diamonds’ and the epic ‘All This Could’ve Been Yours’ build on piano and mournful fiddle courtesy of Aubrey Richmond. You almost forget that bad ass bassist Ted Russell Kamp and guitarist John Schreffler Jr are there until it’s time for the guitar solo, then the pair take centre stage to shine. The rhythm section of Russell Kamp and powerhouse drummer Jamie Douglass are surely one of the best in the business and keep it all together. Pure, laid back 70’s rock ‘n’ roll at its finest, these songs are far removed from the rootsy, country that Shooter may well be known for.
The Guns n’ Roses fan base lap it up. Maybe the band intentionally chose a more rock ‘n’ roll based set for this tour, but the likes of ‘Steady At The Wheel’ and the grungy, riff heavy ‘Don’t Feed The Animals’ certainly bring the rock tonight. Aubrey and Shooter bring the sentiment and duet on a few of the more balladic numbers, but hell, this band are even better than I remember them being a couple of years back.
It’s packed by the time the band return to the stage with Duff at the helm. Dressed in black shirt and jeans, his tousled blonde hair framing his weathered face to perfection, Duff looks every inch the LA rock star. He plays a low slung acoustic for the majority of the set. As Shooter plays the opening piano chords to Gn’R’s ‘You Aint The First’ Duff asks us of we are ready to sing. The response is a resounding yes!
Having never seen him with Loaded live, I must say being the frontman comes naturally to Duff. He cracks jokes and swigs from a flask between songs. Laid bare on these emotionally charged tunes, his gravelly tones are spot on.
The ebb and flow of the set is perfect. A carefully chosen set mixes up mainly album cuts with ‘Use Your Illusions’ era Guns tunes and a few choice covers. The sound is fantastic; we can hear every word, every breath.
The countrified, hickey ‘Breaking Rocks’ is suitably ramshackle, Shooter takes a verse and shares vocals harmonies on the chorus, lap steel guitar and fiddle give a proper authentic feel.
As Shooter plays the piano refrain to ‘Tenderness’, Duff explains the idea behind the songs with passion and creates a feeling of camaraderie with his audience. It’s a beautiful moment and the crowd are deadly silent as he sings the verses, just with piano accompaniment, his voice on the edge of breaking, the vulnerability shining through. At that very moment, this gig has become the gig of the year for me. In this setting, with this band, these songs give so much. I must admit to being blown away. “C’mon Manchester!” Duff shouts as we sing the chorus in unison, the euphoria builds to a crescendo. So, so good.
I mentioned the ebb and flow. The Stonesy rock ‘n’ roll vibes of ‘Chip Away’ follows , Hammond organs play out as Duff dedicates ‘Feel’ to Scott Wieland, Chris Cornell, Prince… the list of lost friends goes on. The band plays to perfection. Never overplaying they are there to back up Duff and his acoustic, to add colour and flair to the songs where needed. As before, you forget the bassist and guitarist are actually there, until they come stage front for a solo.
“Some friends of mine from Seattle wrote this song” sparks up Duff before breaking into Mad Season’s ‘River Of Deceit’. That opening little riff he trades with John is sublime, and the feel of the song fits the set perfectly. He gets some crowd participation going too. Duff straps on a telecaster and they take things right up with ‘Dust n Bones’. High energy rock ‘n’ roll, just what the doctor ordered, we sing every word and it sounds utterly fantastic. A killer solo and the crowd out-singing a cortisone-fuelled McKagan makes it a highlight.
Elsewhere this evening, ‘Last September’ and ‘Parkland’ are truly moving and about as relevant as you can get. Chillingly, Duff changes the words in ‘Parkland’ to include the most recent shootings, one that happened just a few days ago. The Clash’s ‘Clampdown’ is suitably ace, and the following ‘Dead Horse’ is downright amazing. Aubrey gets stage front to take the second verse, it’s chaotic. I’ve never heard it live before, I feel privileged.
It’s a rollercoaster of a set to be fair. The more fragile moments of ‘Tenderness’ are played out perfectly and when the band rock out, they are on fire. A final one-two and the band bows out. ‘Don’t Look Behind You’ sounds beautiful, full of sentiment, just like the goddamn record! And the closing cover of Mark Lanegan’s ‘Deepest Shade’ sees our hero take off his guitar, jump into the pit and scale the barrier to get up close and personal with those at the front.
I knew tonight was going to be good, but I never imagined it would be this good. What I expected to be a laid back, acoustic affair turned out to be a full on rock ‘n’ roll show by a band who play like they have been on the road for years.
While ‘Tenderness’ is one of those ‘late night, stoner’ sort of albums rather than a ‘blast at full volume in the car’ sort of albums, it transfers very well in a live environment with a full band. Good songs are good songs, and coming from the heart and from the soul, Duff has an album full of them.
The tour may have just begun but Duff McKagan and his band have the camaraderie of a well seasoned touring band already. £40 well spent I say.
Author: Ben Hughes