On the first night of their European tour the Hooten Hallers were in good spirits, mixing and chatting with their fans both before and after the gig. It was noticeable that a few the audience were wearing The Dead South t-shirts, the Hallers having supported the Canadian band on a previous tour and having clearly made an impression. As the gig got under way it was not hard to see why. The Hooten Hallers are not an easy band to handily pigeonhole. Their staple diet of high-octane rhythm & blues is supplemented variously with dashes of rock & roll, soul, blues, surf and garage rock; ingredients just perfect for a live banquet.
With a voice somewhere between Screamin’ Jay Hawkins and Tom Waits, guitarist, singer and main man John Randall launched into ‘Stick and Stones’ with an energy and a heady enthusiasm that was quite intoxicating. The Hooten Hallers can certainly rouse a crowd. ‘Gravity’, a kind of dirty blues, put a break on the pace, if not the energy, Randall screaming out every line like it was his dying breath. This was one of a number of songs featured from their 2017 album ‘The Hooten Hallers’ which despite being self-titled was actually their fourth album release. Hot on the heels of last year’s ‘Live in Missouri’ the band are currently working on a new studio album and previewed it through a new song ‘Back in Business’.
The well-chosen cover is part and parcel of any rhythm and blues performance, so it was no surprise when Ronnie Self’s ‘My Own Kick Door’ was introduced. Later in the set a remarkable cover of Louis Armstrong’s ‘Wonderful World’ was also performed, with the warm avuncular sound of Armstrong replaced by a pained and snarling requiem to the planet. Other diversions in the set included an instrumental medley and the vocals of drummer Andy Rehm, all of which served to keep the audience on their toes and guessing.
Midway through, John Randall put down his guitar and picked up what appeared to be a homemade, five-string lap steel guitar. Whatever it was, Randall for the next three songs, extracted from it a reverberating and sometimes caterwauling sound that made one nervous for the paintwork. Beginning with ‘Comin’ Down the Mountain’ and moving through ‘Hard to Trust Your Baby’ and into ‘Albatross’ (no, not that one!), this segment of the show proved to be a high point amongst many highlights. The three-piece band certainly packed a punch, with baritone sax player Kelley Everett (“I couldn’t bring the bass sax – it was too big for the plane”) doing a splendid job of adding texture and subtlety to their raucous sound. The evening finished with the appropriately titled ‘Rhythm and Blues’ before we could all finally draw breath.
Support for the evening came from Jim Adama whose blues-rock trio only occasionally lifted themselves above the level of cliché, but were perfectly listenable performing their first ever public gig. This was followed by the timeworn and hackneyed hard rock sound of The Dee Vees. The band seemed to have a few friends in the audience, but largely provided good trade for the bar downstairs, this writer amongst those heading for the exit.