The faded western cantina chic of Omerea was the perfect backdrop for tonight’s opening act – and later Dylan LeBlanc’s band – The Pollies, a four piece of guitar, bass, drums and keyboards. They hail out of Muscle Shoals and look the part of rural Alabamans – although when guitarist and singer Jay Burgess refers to the band as, “Rednecks, that’s what we are,” a correcting holler from the stage rear interjects a preference for “Southern Gentlemen”.
Whichever appellation suits best, The Pollies make a fine fuzzed up country rock lifted above the normal by an impressive rhythm section with Jon Davis unleashing joyous drum fills whilst the gently grooving Spencer Duncan added Rickenback bass rumbles deep at the bottom. All the while, Clint Chandler adds a certain distinctiveness to the band on the keyboards. The Pollies released an album last September and their record label asked them to do a cover song at the same time – their choice of ‘Unknown Legend‘ is, unsurprisingly, a nicely fuzzed up version of Neil Young’s remembrance of a once-was-wild waitress.
With the room filling up Dylan LeBlanc took to the stage with The Pollies in tow and grabbed attention immediately with the hard opening chords of the crunchingly onomatopiac ‘Bang Bang Bang‘ which served to set the tone for the rest of the set. This was going to be the cutting free on long guitar solos Dylan LeBlanc of the most recent album ‘Renegade‘. It moves him into that Neil Young territory of intense guitar solos that can be extended to epic lengths, sending waves of glorious noise pulsating out into the room. There’s a touch of Jonathan Wilson as well both in the guitar playing and in LeBlanc’s wounded and mournful vocals. His voice was highlighted when LeBlanc switched from his black Gibson to an acoustic for one of the night’s gentler songs, the plaintive ‘Lone Rider‘ with LeBlanc embracing solitude and losing himself in a world of pain and hoplessness. There’s a beautiful weariness embodied in the chorus lines, “Just a Lone Rider, the solitary kind / I’d rather give you my heart than a piece of my mind”.
Between songs though, LeBlanc revealed himself to be a contented man – relaxed and joking with the audience, happily in love. Ego free, he’s self-deprecating to a fine point – denying that he’s an artist, and
wondering what he should call himself – thankfully he doesn’t alight on ‘song and dance man‘. Several times he also added his gratitude to London in general for being early enthusiastic audiences, and Rough Trade in particular for signing him at the age of 20.
Whilst the new album dominated the set list there was room for some older material. The raucous guitar solo at the end of ‘Domino‘ gave way to the melodic joy of ‘Cautionary Tale‘ which plays around with the risks of love saving one from a dissipated life – but there’s a thrill when it too moved from delicate restraint into an extended and flamboyantly wild guitar coda. This was very much the best of both worlds of Dylan LeBlanc – the gentle hearted troubadour and the reckless guitar basher. The yin and the yang combined into a satisfyingly complete whole. The three song encore – including a high powered take on ‘Renegade‘ – and the seemingly endless final swirl of guitar was bliss indeed.