The name Glenn Hughes needs no introduction. Nicknamed by his fans “The Voice of Rock”, Glenn is a living and breathing embodiment of British rock and its compelling story. Lord of the four strings and king of the high notes, he is a true original whose music blends hard rock, soul, and funk. Arguably one of the best rock n’ roll singers in the planet (and the singer in my all-time imaginary rock band), he has truly crossed path with everyone who’s anyone in the history of classic rock.
Once described by Stevie Wonder as his favorite white singer, his musical career started out in the 60s with beat combo Finders Keepers. Later he formed acclaimed funk-rock band Trapeze and then joined Deep Purple at their commercial peak, achieving international fame, and playing in three albums, including the fan-favorite Burn. When Deep Purple split in 1976, Hughes embarked on a series of solo albums, collaborations, and even a brief, chaotic spell fronting Black Sabbath; battling a crack addiction and cocaine psychosis along the way; surviving a clean-up-or-die crisis; and finally recovering to rebuild his solo career which has been his focus since 1991. In addition to his numerous appearances in countless records with other artists and his very prolific solo discography between 2009 and 2013, Glenn fronted the super-group project Black Country Communion, with guitar star Joe Bonamassa, keyboard player Derek Sherinian (Dream Theater, Alice Cooper, Kiss) and drummer Jason Bonham, son of the late Led Zeppelin legend John Bonham. The band released three studio albums and a live recording– all of them world-class musical statements in which Glenn raised the bar for rock ‘n’ roll signing even more.
I have followed Glenn Hughes’s musical endeavors since his time with Deep Purple but have never been able to catch him live before (and if you’ve read any of my reviews before you already know that living in my homeland Cuba for the first 30-some years of my existence was pretty much the reason why). Hughes is no stranger to touring North America, as he has done so as part of Deep Purple as well as with Trapeze and the short-lived Hughes/Thrall project. When he announced a US Solo tour for this summer, the first one under his own name on these shores, I immediately knew we would travel to see him play. After taking a quick look at the dates, my wife and I settled for the tour stop at Shirley, Massachusetts. Yeah, it would be a long trek from Miami to Boston, but I wasn’t willing to let the opportunity to pass me by. In my opinion, it was a perfect time for Glenn to tour the US with the residual buzz from his Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction in April with Deep Purple still ringing. He had re-scheduled the tour that was originally slated to kick off in San Jose, California on March 2nd due to complications after his double-knee replacement, and now the timing seemed to be perfect to make it happen.
We arrived to the venue around 3:30 pm. The Bull Run is a centuries-old restaurant which looks like extracted from a Wild West movie directed by Quentin Tarantino. Nearly 40 miles from Boston and with a particular place in Shirley’s history, this beautifully preserved wooden tavern built in 1740 is attracting a whole new generation of food, beer, and music connoisseurs. It has become what many consider a hidden treasure of the Boston’s music scene. Truth be told the atmosphere was excellent, and we had a super tasty lunch while we waited patiently for the doors to open.
We had the opportunity to meet and talk to Glenn shortly before the show. I’ve met a fairly large number of rock stars during the course of the last 6 years. The experience has been sort of a hit and miss–sometimes I’ve stumbled upon very nice guys, sometimes… not so much. However. talking to Hughes was a revealing one. He is the NICEST musician I’ve ever had the chance to talk to. Period. First, when he heard we had come from Miami he said, “Really? Stop it! That’s so kind of you!” and kept thanking us for traveling to see him. He asked for my wife’s name and gave her a picture of him he had previously signed. But when I told him we were born in Cuba and that I used to listen to his records in cassette tapes when I was a teenager, he looked at me right in the eyes and said “C’mon, let me give you a hug! You are the best!” He gave me such a genuine and affectionate hug–a hug loaded with care and warmth–and he insisted on posing for the camera with me like that. My wife captured this moment in a loving picture I will forever treasure. It was truly a magical moment.
Around 6:30 the doors opened and we entered a wedding-reception ballroom located at the back of the restaurant, which capacity for around 300 souls. Our table was perfectly placed at mere inches to the center of the stage, the spot couldn’t have been better, and the night promised to be one to remember. But we haven’t seen nothing yet.
Opening for Hughes was Joanne Shawn Taylor. To be honest, I had not heard of her before, and boy, was I surprised. She is a British blue guitarist, and she has it all. From the incredible guitar playing to her phenomenally bluesy voice and personality which radiates from the stage. Immediately you realize you are are dealing with one truly talented woman! It is infectious when you see someone on stage having fun, and it was clear she was enjoying herself. Her smile filled the room as she effortlessly played bluesy rock riffs, joined by a very tight backbone section of bass and drums. Joanne makes playing the blues look easy as if just anyone could make a Gibson talk in the same way. Through a wide variety of blues infused songs, permeated with jazz overtones, she delighted the audience during slightly more than 45 minutes. Thunderous applause followed her, long after she disappeared to one of the sides of the stage. All of a sudden, I had homework to do!
Some concerts take off after a song or two, some — toward the middle, some – just before the encore. And some abduct you and transport you from the word go. That was what happened when the light dimmed and Glenn took the stage alongside his long-standing partner in crime drummer Pontus Engborg and his guitarist Søren Andersen. The crowd exploded, in unison, with a deafening ovation, and the music began to flow. In a career spanning four decades and a songbook filled with classic rock masterpieces the band pressed the gas pedal with the Trapeze’s classic “Way Back to the Bone”, a song that is bouncy and has such a fantastic sounding bass. Three things grabbed me at once: the volatile energy beaming from a man halfway through his six decade of life, the raw emotion of his voice which hasn’t lost a bit of range and power, and the ferocity with which he commands his bass guitar. He was holding the stage, and having a great time at the same time. Out from the Hughes/Thrall’s catalogue “Muscle and Blood” followed, but not before Glenn addressed the audience “I want to thank each and every one of you for being here today, for me. I wasn’t here if it wasn’t for your support and I want to apologize if I didn’t come before, but I had no knees (Laughs)”. Everyone cheered and the music took charge again, adding some electricity to the ambient. More classic’s dropped, one after another: “Orion” for his solo albums, “Touch my Life” – another favorite of mine from his Trapeze’s years –, and “First Step of Love” off the Hughes/Thrall project. Glenn kept owning the night, smiling and singing his lungs out like in his 20, while moving through the stage and interacting with Søren Andersen during the guitar pyrotechnics. Hughes has been blessed to have the chance of playing with a myriad of incredible guitar players, but Søren is second to none. From full-bodied roar to shrill screams, his guitar keeps flashing new tonal colors turn after turn, switching from infectious riffs to fluid solos, while he followed the music vibe jumping and head-banging. The magnetic tension between Hughes’ voice and Søren’s guitar expanded and contracted, but the rhythm section kept the proceedings clockwork solid, with a precise and phenomenal drumming courtesy of Engborg, who revealed himself in front of our surprised eyes like a powerhouse drummer, capable of a brilliant and energetic playing.
Hughes introduced the former Trapeze and later Black Country Communion’s song “Medusa” as the first rock song he ever composed in his life (you can watch the video my wife filmed here), and the venue’s reaction was memorable, singing along and clapping. Glenn’s range of voice was stunning. It’s only when you see him live that you can really understand why he is called “The Voice of Rock”. The band continued with more anthems: Purple’s “Stormbringer”, Hughes’ solo “Can’t Stop the Flood” and Black Country Communion’s “One Last Soul”. Before jumping into the latter, he spoke to the audience, praising Joe Bonamassa as “One of the greatest guitarist I’ve had the pleasure to work with, and one of the greatest ever” and he also confirmed his new solo album coming in November and getting together again with Black Country Communion in January next year for their new album, words that were followed by whopping crowd hailing. You could find yourself breathing along with the show’s pace – wherever it took you – the highs and the lows, the tensions and the releases built up an intimately personal yet universal atmosphere and we were caught on it, like in a whirlwind. At the beginning of Purple’s “You Keep on Moving” Glenn spoke about how rough the year had been and how many great musicians we’ve lost, to later paid tribute to his fallen partners Jon Lord and Tommy Bolin while raising his arms in the air and saying “I love you Tommy! I love you Jon!” a touchy moment the spectators celebrated with more clamoring. The set-list closed with Soul Mover, the initial track for his album of the same name and a favorite of mine, which coincidentally was the first Hughes album to feature drummer Chad Smith on the entirety of the record. The trio executed the song like if it was the last song they would ever play, captivating the audience into sheer silence as well as raising them up to a glorious roar. When the last note languished every single person in the room was standing, screaming and clapping like maniacs. The three men left to the side of the stage leaving the place on fire, and everyone asking for me.
After nearly 5 minutes of non-stop applause they re-appeared on stage, and without further delay jumped straight into “Black Country”, the opening salvo of Black Country Communion’s first record, to which they added a short yet energetic drum solo, and closed the night with Deep Purple’s all-time classic “Burn”. I’ve listened to that song alone a million times, and I’ve seen many different performances of it by many artists, including the original sang by Coverdale and Hughes back in the day, in which Hughes handled the screaming high notes. It was a real treat to see him singing “Burn” and I feel without the shadow of a doubt that at his age of 64 Hughes carries “Burn” in a way I don’t believe Coverdale could do now. The vocal power he has at his age is unprecedented and is not of this world. He hits some notes that no person at his age has to right to hit (my wife also filmed that song, and you can see it at the end as well). After “Burn” they waved “good-bye” to the audience and Pontus came forward to give away his drumsticks. He graciously gave one to my wife (she’s always lucky to get that sort of stuff).
Being able to witness a legend like Glenn Hughes in such an intimate and excellently sounding venue was such a staggering experience. It was a truly unforgettable show. He takes the crowd on an emotional roller coaster, never missing a note and singing as if possessed. He remains a live animal and this tour will do nothing but affirm that. Considering how much he will tour the US, South America and Europe for the rest of this year, I can’t recommend enough to go and see him play live. It was on of the best concerts I’ve ever been to– and he is truly the kindest rockstar on Earth.
Way Back to the Bone (Trapeze song) / Muscle and Blood (Hughes/Thrall song) / Orion / Touch My Life (Trapeze song) / First Step of Love (Hughes/Thrall song) / Medusa (Trapeze song) / Stormbringer (Deep Purple song) / Can’t Stop the Flood / One Last Soul (Black Country Communion song) / You Keep on Moving (Deep Purple song) / Soul Mover
Black Country (Black Country Communion song) / Burn (Deep Purple song)