In these reviews I often find myself harking back to a period in London’s long lost rock history: the pub rock and early punk days of 75/76 that, in particular, the west of the city became associated with. Tonight’s gig is in the legendary 100 Club slap bang in heart of town. It’s a busy affair. The man I’m here to see is supporting Jet’s Nic Cester and veteran indie /punk broadcaster is Gary Crowley is DJing. It’s a superb gig, full of the right amount of joviality, rawness and musicianship, but as the sun rises the next morning, I’m thinking of west London again and the tower blocks that flank the Westway, the landscapes so evocative of early Clash artwork.
None of this imagery would be lost on Chris Shiflett – despite being the guitarist for festival headliners Foo Fighters – his roots are very much embedded in punk. He plays in a punk tribute band when not being a Foo Fighter. He likes London because, “You all sound like Sid Vicious,” he remarks when trying to tune in to the audience banter. But he also loves country and Americana and opens with a cover of Buck Owen’s classic, I’ve Got a Tiger By The Tail. Jet lagged and behind schedule it’s a big ask for him to stand in front of an eager rock audience and play ten or so songs on just an acoustic. However, buoyed by the whoops and hollers of the sing along crowd as he launches into Sticks And Stones from his new album, he pulls it off.
I ask myself. If I was a rock star, playing the Primavera’s, Glasto’s and Coachella’s of the world, would I do this? Hell yeah! I respond. He finishes The Girl’s Already Gone and laughs, “hey that one got clapped at the bar” and we sense how he is revelling in the intimacy and the challenge. I had earlier heard him talk on his podcast “Walking the Floor” about how difficult it is to get a good sound from an amped up acoustic and yet here he is doing exactly that. Testing himself and figuring out whether to play the solo parts or just keep on strummin’ through. “Play the solos!“ the crowd shouts.
Goodnight Little Rock was meant to be a classic country song about Interstate truck stops but he realized that it was hard to write about eighteen-wheelers so he writes instead about his own job on the road, “turning 100 strangers into our best friends “at a punk rock show. It’s ironic that in his side project Shiflett plays punk covers of songs like “Country Roads”, but on his album he has penned some classic punk compositions that he has given a country treatment. In particular is the wonderful Blow Out The Candles which recalls a “Stay Free” era Mick Jones song. There is a great version of I’m Still Drunk that is enhanced by the stripped back strumming style too.
Finally he gives himself some relief by inviting the Foo’s keyboardist Rami Jaffee to accompany him on accordion on West Coast Town , a song that he penned about his blue-collar upbringing in Santa Barbara, “back before they chased the working class out , you know we don’t f**k around , where I grew up, in a West Coast Town”
In London, the poor don’t get chased out. They get holed up in the undesirable parts of the rich boroughs in the same grim tower blocks that Strummer/Jones et al used as icons of desperation and alienation forty years earlier.