Big Daddy Wilson – Tuning Fork November 4, 2017

North Carolinian bluesman Big Daddy Wilson wraps up his month-long tour of New Zealand at Auckland’s Tuning Fork, before heading back to his adopted homeland Germany to commence the European leg.

Promoting his current long player, Neckbone Stew, Wilson has a clear affection for The Land of the Long White Cloud having played here many times and even putting it to record with his song New Zealand-Aotearoa on his 2015 album Time. Touring with a full band on this occasion, comprising of Cesare Nolli on lead guitar, Nelson based Steve ‘Gilles’ Gilberg on guitars and Paolo Legramandi on bass, with Wilson picking up the sticks with drums and percussion.

Arriving at the venue, the audience to this event was a complete contrast to the one happening next door at the Spark Arena, a youthful crowd seeing Drake’s second night show. It was a far lower key gathering inside the intimate Tuning Fork, with the audience seated and tabled with the occasional bar snacks being delivered. A varied bunch in the crowd, being more on the elder side, some having a family night out, it felt like just the right mix for an evening of live music.

Big Daddy and his band walked on stage right on time at 8.30pm to warm welcome. Wilson, dressed in a black suit, black hat, shades with a red tie looked sharp as a knife. His band members, Cesare and Paolo also looking dapper in their own hats. They all took their seats and kicked into their set with Wilson asking the crowd, “you ready for some blues?” to which they all replied, “Yes!”

The band, effortlessly tight and clearly love playing together, ran through a varied bunch of Wilson’s back catalogue. Songs like Time and the cheeky sounding Thumb A Ride, which Wilson warmed up the crowd with a clap-along. In-between songs Big Daddy would share short tales with hints of comedy, adding to the intimacy of the night. Introducing Rail Road Work Song with, “every bluesman’s got a railroad song”, with the band providing some great three-part gospel harmonies.

A dedication to his friends back home in the States affected by flooding saw him play Hurricane off his 2006 album Walk A Mile In My Shoes. Recalling a tale about observing a, “fine looking woman” of larger proportions on a dancefloor, had the crowd laughing before launching into the 12 bar Texas Boogie which involved a singalong from the responsive crowd singing, “shake it big momma”. He then played Anna Mae, a love song written for his wife to, “keep me out of the dog house”, Wilson displays a natural talent for engaging with the crowd. He wrapped up the first hour long set with Bullfrog off the 2015 long player Time.

A fifteen-minute interval brought them back on stage, looking comfortable and relaxed. Running through early career Freight Train with Wilson on shakers and Gilles on Resonator lap guitar and 7 Years off his new album.

The band are very impressive players with some fantastic licks from lead guitarist, “Big C”, who effortlessly soloed his way through the night with Wilson each time shouting, “Smokestack!” to rapturous applause. My Day Will Come was a long, locked-in jam, super tight. Then closing the set with a showcase of just how talented these players are by running through Country Boy, intersecting various classics into the jam with the lead guitarist and bass player taking turns picking up the lead vocals…songs like The Temptations’ My Girl, Otis Redding’s Dock of the Bay and Ben E King’s Stand By Me.

They ended the night with a real gem of a cover, Bob Dylan’s Don’t Think Twice, It’s All Right, with Gilles’ beautifully picked acoustic guitar giving my ears plenty to be thankful for.

A great gig by some very talented musicians, I’ll make sure to keep an eye out for their return.

Matt Lord

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