News of a long overdue return to the UK by Boston’s Sarah Borges was cause for celebration in itself, but to find that she’d be accompanied by her latest producer, the legend that is Eric “Roscoe” Ambel – a dream ticket to be sure – had this reviewer’s little slice of the internet going crazy. Borges is infamous for her incendiary gigs (with one of our reviewers always adamant that a show she did in Winchester many moons ago was “the best ever”) and having Ambel (of Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, Steve Earle’s Dukes, The Yayhoos, The Del Lords and his own Roscoe Gang fame) on board promised fireworks indeed and with Keith Vogele of The Bottle Rockets on bass and John Powney, drummer in Warner E. Hodges band also on board, this super group did not disappoint.
The band slammed into their opener, ‘House On The Hill’ with Borges explaining it was about a failed marriage. Many of her songs tonight were about lost love and failure but they were all delivered with a ballsy attitude, emphasised by Borges’ introductions which showed that she takes no prisoners when it comes to standing up for herself. Her intro to her lockdown number, ‘She’s A Trucker’, the song brilliantly delivered with a huge chugging motion, had her saying that, “She used to get laid, now she just gets weighed” and there were several more bon mots in a similar fashion. With the band locked into the heady groove which Borges and Ambel have fashioned on her latest album ‘Together Alone’, ‘Wouldn’t Know You’ was a mighty rumble while ‘13th Floor’ churned away with Ambel dredging up a fine solo on his guitar.
As a co-headliner Ambel was front of stage on several songs. His first foray was in leading the band in a hugely enjoyable rendition of Dylan’s ‘If You Gotta Go, Go Now’ but he also delved into his past, ploughing through songs by The Del Lords and The Yayhoos along with some solo numbers. ‘Monkey With A Gun’ was brash and loud (and great fun as the band joined in on the vocal mayhem) as Ambel unleashed some squalling guitar solos. ‘Let’s Play With Fire’ was full of reverb fuelled guitar pyrotechnics and his cover of Nick Lowe’s ‘12 Step Program (To Quit You Babe)’ had the band revving up in a grand manner. Explaining that The Stones’ ‘Honky Tonk Women’ lacked a truly honky tonk styled version he then proceeded to play it as if the band were in some roadhouse somewhere off an American highway.
Borges and Ambel truly gelled as they traded vocals on the rockabilly knockabout which is ‘Gone As Gone As Can Get’ at the close of the set and they finished off with a killer version of NRBQ’s ‘It Comes To Me Naturally’ with Ambel’s guitar close to self-igniting.
Support tonight was from the Carol Hodge Band, a lively (and not Americana) act whose short set was, if not incendiary, at least the equivalent of letting off some massive firecrackers, demanding attention from the audience. A four piece band with Hodge on keyboards and with an incredibly animated, gurning and crusty bassist drawing much attention, their mix of punk, prog and new wave certainly livened up the crowd (a fair number of them having turned up to see Ms. Hodge it seems). A song such as ‘The Moan Of A Thousand Years’ yearns to be heard in an arena setting but it was their dramatic rendering of ‘This’ – for this listener, a flashback to sweaty early 70s college gigs – which allowed the band to show off their best pomp and circumstance.