WPGM Reviews: Ryan McGarvey Live At Café Drummond

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Aberdeen’s Café Drummond witnessed not only a thorough sound check from the sole band performing that night, but quite a lively show, too.

Testing their levels so vigorously, in fact, that one wondered if they were kicking things off early. No danger of that as, as said, they were the only band playing, and actually came on about 21:00, rather than the scheduled 20:00.

Ryan McGarvey consisted of the man himself on vocal and guitar duties, plus bassist and drummer, performing a diverse range of styles under the banner of blues rock. One career highlight so far has seen Ryan and his band chosen, in 2010, out of 4,000 bands worldwide to perform a set in Chicago for Eric Clapton’s Crossroads Guitar Festival.

Anyway, bluesy fanfare opened things, before the song proper began. The venue was packed in the dancefloor area. It evoked hot summer days, daresay picking cotton in the pulsing sun, the heat accentuating the pain of back breaking labour. Abrasive, hard edged and guttural. Rocking, almost alternative rock and grungy feel. A guitar solo was wild and untamed. They got an excellent reception for this one.

This next one, though, was more brooding; the vocals searching and bleak. Then came that note, that moment. Heavy, almost crushing. The bass really cut through, lending extra grit. Calm yet moody. A groovy, rocking riff took the song in a new tangent. Then came a blistering solo, as the rhythm section held down the bottom end. The bass, however, got uncharacteristically busy before the song’s emphatic end.

Then followed some flattery of the audience, but genuinely and sincerely said. There was a lengthy guitar opening before the whole band kicked in. Jangly but not necessarily pop orientated. A dramatic flourish heralded an impassioned solo, finishing with aplomb.

One song seemed to meld into the next, garnering sizeable applause. Then came crazy, spastic twelve bar blues. Climbing basslines accentuated the frenetic pace of the song. The drums did a power of work, syncopating now and then until almost constantly.

After that were some atmospherics, the guitar brooding. It seemed heartfelt, searching melody like questing for the meaning of life. The vocals and lyrics confirmed this to be the case. Ryan had the voice of a heartthrob, plenty of feeling and vulnerability. A solo played to the song’s end.

Subsequent to that was a blues workout, really groovy and moody. The bassist’s picking hand a flurry of fingers, testament to his high octane fretwork.

“Blue Eyed Angel Blues”, from his first album, reared its head. This one had an opening salvo on guitar. It was bluesy and almost classical in its eloquent expression. The rhythm section kicked in, and right then it felt like a Phil Lynott and Gary Moore moment. It seemed to detail a life of love unrequited, or mistakes made, indiscretions committed and the like. The solo was full and emphatic, holding that note and feeling the sustenance of it ring out through the room.

The seamlessness of this moment, into the next, was perfect. The drummer was now using rimshots to peg back the dynamics an iota or two. So much so, the soloing was now soft and delicate. The bass complemented the guitar, rather than seeking the relative silence to outshine it. There was vocal riffing to match the histrionics of the guitar. This built back into full pelt. No much wonder, as previously revealed, this track’s a fan’s favourite. The subsequent solo was blistering, no word of a lie. Again, expert timing as beginning of vocals dropped neatly cued. Impeccable.

The Road Chosen track, “Little Red Riding Hood”, now cropped up. Moody, bluesy and groovy were the operative words, here. Crushing, crunchy bass heralded this quite angular rocker. Wah-wah inflected guitar roamed wild and free. Cue whooping and whistling from the crowd.

“My Heart To You”, as per its title, had emotions very much on the sleeve. The bass rung through this one’s overall despondency, giving clarity and shape. The vocals, in fact, sounded in genuine pain. A change came, choppy and unexpected, before the solo ripped in. It then veered from jangly and melancholic to full on and rollicking. A flourish signalled its end.

The mood perhaps changed a bit with “Drunken Dreams”. The drums hit out in urgency with stabs of guitar. The vocals were quite gritty, and it was a rocking chorus set against a relatively sedate verse.

Again, in turn, this maybe changed with “Break My Heart”. This fairly picked up the pace, like a bluesy take on Queen’s “Tie Your Mother Down”. Thumping drum and bass accentuated the basic, yet so satisfying energy of the song. Chugging and unstoppable, so infectious. It got suitably moody before rocking out, again. This was wild and passionate to the end.

There was a similar rocking energy to the next. The beat thumped, putting the entire crowd in the pocket. Tad reminiscent of Eighties’ hard rock and heavy metal. The solo really added energy to the piece, as the rhythm section knocked out the foundation upon which the song stood. The bass was given room to breakout, both grooving and melodic. The ending suitably came with a crawling flourish.

One of their singles, “Memphis”, came and crawling, again, was the word. This was doomy, thick and heavy. A slab of concrete. The vocals also had a tad of bite, too. It was quite a nasty one, all round. However, it was then pared back, the bass and drum filling those frequencies behind a tasteful solo.

At this point McGarvey introduced the band, and this reviewer swears he said his bassist, Carmine Rojas, once worked with the one and only Tina Turner (David Bowie, Rod Stewart and Joe Bonamassa, too, it turns out). There was then a wall of sound before the opening shots of guitar were fired. It was like being lost in a desert. Barren. A riff came to fruition, cyclical and grooving. There was a guitar hero instance as Ryan acknowledged the majesty of the moment.

It was then pared down for a show of dynamics. The guitar then rung out amidst a sparse soundscape. This was spaced out and atmospheric. A tempo change then arrived, the riff akin to the feel of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir”. This was perhaps deliberate. Yes, very much the case, actually. It got busy, but still retained that moody feel. A crushing moment arrived, new terrain to explore. The final licks lingered, wild and abounding. Very experimental closing moments.

Then he turned and turned the tuner on the headstock. You thought the string would surely snap. Then it got guttural low, obviously turning and turning, now, in the other direction. Crouched, he rose higher and higher and the string, again, tensed. A flourish of drum and bass indicated the song proper about to begin. Before you knew it, the set was over.

The encore started with hammering intensity. Regimented drums inspired syncopated moments. A tasty bass fill heralded crazy, off the wall guitar. A brief pause came before a call to arms, then followed by a scintillating guitar solo. A sizeable, mighty riff ensued. He concocted multitudes of sounds out of that guitar.

Purchase the Ryan McGarvey 2014 album, The Road Chosen, here.

Also visit his Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube pages to keep tabs on Ryan McGarvey.

Words by Andrew Watson

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