“ARE YOU READY??!” Barrence Whitfield shrieks in trademark fashion for the fifth time. The audience look like they’ve been wrestled through an industrial jet wash – that uses lava instead of water. God help anyone who isn’t ready as the band launch into the raucous stomp of Walking with Barrence. Problem is, this is the last number of a nineteen song set. It’s eight minutes long. And its HOT. Damn hot. Someone better have an ambulance on standby…
But, lets go back. Soul sexagenarian Whitfield and his band The Savages have burst back into life and onto a UK wide tour to promote their new album Soul Flowers of Titan. Hailing from Jacksonville, Florida, Barrence has been described as anything from Little Richard to Solomon Burke, yet nothing prepares you for the immovable force who takes the stage at the elegantly bijou Speakeasy venue in The Voodoo Rooms.
First out are gnarly Glaswegian support trio The Brutes who warm the room nicely with a deliriously punk racket that creates enough noise to knock a stack of pint glasses off the bar. Imagine a cross between The MC5 and the cast from Auf Wiedersehen, Pet and you’re in the right ball park.
Things are already quite frothy as the headline act appears, Barrence bounding up on deck with a shirt sporting the legend “Delta River Hellcats”. The image of an untamed snarling beast drenched in water seems wholly appropriate as the band launch into a searing triumvirate of rhythm and blues, immediately showcasing Whitfield’s startling vocal gymnastics.
Slowly Losing My Mind, lifted from the new album, gradually cranks through the gears and low, guttural stabs from Tom Quartulli’s tenor saxophone punctuate through the white hot blues of Pain. The compact nature of the venue is remarked upon frequently by Whitfield and for good reason. This is a big man in front of us. Thing is, the incendiary atmosphere seems to spur the guy on further as he thrashes around on stage, writhing through every emotion like a one-man soap opera. The red limit shrieking on soul heartbreaker Mad About It would make you seriously reconsider any notion of breaking up should you ever find yourself in a relationship with him.
The Savages – Peter Greenberg (Guitar), Phil Lenker (Bass), Andy Jody (Drums) along with the aforementioned Quartelli – aid and abet at every whoop and holler, egging Whitfield on like delinquent school chums whilst creating a mountainous noise that excites and entertains. The Claw recycles the hook from Summertime Blues into a sick blues whilst the down and dirty Blackjack has one onlooker with a busted leg waving crutches in the air.
Set highlight Willie Meehan tells the story of an unheralded boxer beating the legendary Jack Dempsey, the rhythm section deftly bobbing and weaving into a tawdry, urgent groove. In boxing parlance, lesser performers would be blowing out their arses by now.
Not a bit of it. Whitfield has the crowd on the ropes but he’s just getting his second wind. Despite everything, the set ratchets up further with Sunshine Don’t Make Sun channelling Sun Ra in his pomp. The soupy rocker Turn Your Damper Down does anything but, threatening the integrity of your dental fillings in the process.
The band crunch though a final three-pronged rock’n’roll section before closing the set with the deliriously epic Walking with Barrence. Total knockout.