John Blek and The Rats at The Grand Social – Photos and Review
John Blek and the Rats played the Grand Social on June 7th in the cosy upstairs space, below a canopy of fabric and twinkly lights. The six-man (or five-man, one-woman) ensemble crammed onto the tiny stage to play the cosy evening gig.
They opened with “Cities Keep Changing” which had a reminiscence of 50s style music before the folksy vocals came in. This first track really got the audience into the band’s sound with lovely harmonies, long end notes and rhythmic tambourine.
They followed it with the powerful vocals of “Ease your Mind” with the double bass vibrating the bar stools like they were dancing along with the swaying audience. They slowly teased the audience away from the bar and their beverages and closer to the stage with the loud energetic opening of “The Road”. The lap steel guitar really took the spotlight at the end. The mellow, laidback set breezed onwards into “Crucified”, whose deceptively sombre title hid a gem of a tune with gentle tambourine and soulful harmonies.
The set slowed down briefly with the sad, but lovely, “Rosie”. Known as ‘the waltzer’ the band encouraged people to dance and any couples in the audience swayed romantically together.
They contrasted the melancholy “Rosie” with the completely different “Old St.Catherine”. This bouncy, jumpy, upbeat track had the audience twisting and stomping like we were starting a party! They powered straight on into “Take me Home” which put the emphasis on front man John before bringing in the rest of the band.
One highpoint of the evening was “Trying Times” which really highlighted the way country music tells a story. The grungey lyrics told of a tough life but were sung in the quick, upbeat country style-showing the southern attitude that helped define the genre. Another highlight was during the energetic number when the two singers sang an exquisitely powerful harmonised section without accompaniment mid-song that was breath-taking.
Their concluding number was “Lord don’t leave me”, where the audience were taught to sing back the refrain of ‘don’t leave me’ along with the plaintive vocals of the female singer. The audience got some enthusiastically clappy, stompy dancing started and the song finished with a final swell of music, lights flashing on and off and raucous stamping and roaring from the crowd!
The group were then persuaded to play one more tune before the audience had to finish their drinks with John Blek swapping out his acoustic guitar for an electric for this final flourish.
The band created an atmosphere of a summer night completely unaided by the sunshine outside and, combined with the cosy setting of the venue, it felt like you were at a country party surrounded by friends and family. The music was fantastic, the drink was flowing and the craic was mighty! A fantastic way to end a warm summer day and a soundtrack for the sunshine ahead of us!
Review by Kat Clinch
Photos by Shaun Neary