A random conversation with a total stranger at this summer’s Ramblin’ Man Fair, who insisted I head directly to the Blues tent to see an amazing guitar slinger from Nashville, is what brought me to this pass on a Tuesday evening in Camden. That afternoon’s set in Maidstone back in July had other complete strangers turning to each other in the tent, with a look of excitement borne of witnessing a future star in the making.
So expectations were somewhat different from what had only been idle curiosity back in the summer – and an equally expectant audience at Dingwall’s is also noticeably younger than other rock shows I’ve attended of late. Tyler Bryant and the Shakedown were on a brief 3 night stopover in the UK and playing their last show of 2017 before returning to Nashville for a well earned rest, so the atmosphere felt electric as the band launch headlong into Backfire from the new album.
It’s quite apparent from the off that recent support slots playing to arena sized stadium audiences with the likes of AC/DC and Guns ‘n’ Roses means the band have honed their stagecraft to a fine art. Tyler Bryant certainly has both the looks and moves (he reminded me of Ten Years After’s Alvin Lee at Woodstock) – bouncing around the stage like he owns it – as well as the guitar chops of a bonafide rock star, ripping out licks from his Fender Stratocaster. While it can be easy for blues-rock to sound generic, the Shakedown add elements of grunge and pop metal to the cocktail, which gives them their own USP.
The show starts with a bang, with Heartland from the latest album and the faster paced House on Fire (which features on Sons of Anarchy) following in quick succession, so it feels like we’re on a runaway train that keeps gaining speed. If Tyler Bryant is the driver then the Shakedown are the engine. And what an engine they are too. An accomplished band of musicians, they’re both inventive and creative – but solid enough – to let Tyler perform his sometimes (overly) flashy guitar noodling.
Although guitarist Graham Whitfield (son of Aerosmith’s Brad) is more than happy to let Bryant take the limelight, he’s clearly no slouch either. When his chance to shine came with an electrifying solo at the end of That’s All Right Mama he truly excelled, and it left the feeling that he should probably take centre stage more often, particularly seeing as he’s also responsible for the monster riff on what’s perhaps the Shakedown’s best song – Weak and Weepin’.
Noah Denney provides a more than capable anchor on bass guitar, while Caleb Crosby on drums seems to be having immense fun, joining Tyler Bryant in the audience with a lone bass drum when the opportunity presents itself.
The Shakedown had previously supported Tom Petty at Hyde Park in the summer and it’s clear what an influence he’s been on the band when they tear into a great rendition of You Wreck Me Baby. Another highlight is a really heavy blues interpretation of Mojo Workin’, their tribute to Muddy Waters. This is prefaced with a lovely story (“I’ve got something to say”) about how Tyler Bryant had met Roosevelt Twitty in a guitar shop when he was only 11, and how the latter had insisted on not charging him a penny for his time. Tyler wants the spirit of that generosity to prevail this evening and his suggestion that we look to pay it forward is a genuinely moving moment on what feels like a very special occasion.
A floor shaking, foot stomping finale of Ramblin’ Bones shows how the band’s commitment to the blues is still unsurpassed and proves a suitably rousing finale to the show. Afterwards, some of the audience were saying it was the best gig they’d attended this year, with Tyler Bryant promising to shake each and every individual’s hands afterwards.
If the evening felt like it lacked a certain degree of spontaneity, there’s no doubting the immense entertainment value on offer. The Shakedown have obviously recognised that supporting mega bands such as AC/DC also provides them with the equivalent of a nightly songwriting class, and it’s clear that if they manage to fashion the right material themselves, that they’ll have the final ingredient necessary to be headlining stadium shows of their own before much longer.