Paul Gilbert at Academy 3: Live Review
Words: Phil Weller
Paul Gilbert and his blurry fingers dished out electric, entertaining and charming set of blues rock as he made stylish return to Manchester, his first show as a solo act since the Vibrato tour in 2013. Sharply dressed in a suit and wonderfully loud shirt, the iconic guitarist focussed much of his set on his blues infused new album, Behold Electric Guitar, alongside a talented backing band handpicked for the shuffling rhythms and freeform blues of the new record.
Blues For Rabbit and Havin It provided a quick one-two of flurried, rapidly picked guitar lines, the sheer smoothness of Gilbert’s playing bordering on inhuman, but it was his story telling and personality, which confirmed the 52 year old is human after all, that made the show such a success. Before a potent run through Sir, You Need To Calm Down, Gilbert told the crowd, with a casually captivating presence, of the origins of the song that gave you a greater appreciation and understanding of its floating melodies. To re-tell the story here wouldn’t be the same, like telling a joke but muddling up the punch line, but it’s something he did again before I Own A Building, singing the lyrics he would then turn into a gorgeous slide guitar motif – one of the crucial thematic to the new album, where his guitar was treated as a vocalist – with a tongue in cheek demeanour. Once more it was joy to listen to and again left you with a greater understanding and admiration of the song.
Elsewhere there were covers and old classics, with everything from Mr Big’s Green Tinted Sixties Mind, the Rocky theme and Carry On My Wayward Son, all with the vocal melodies beautifully transposed onto the guitar in keeping with the theme of the evening, with added slick licks where a singer would breathe. Together, they helped break up the set and keep things interesting.
In all, it was refreshing to see someone so talented be so light-hearted and humble. Seeing a guitar maverick performing under their own name can become a banal, drab and inwardly focussed affair, but with Paul Gilbert it was joyous fun, it felt inclusive and welcoming. He made you laugh and smile, all whilst his insanely fast moving fingers made your jaw drop. Ultimately, and most importantly, it was entertaining. You left the venue, stepping out into the cooling night air, the quietening rattle of traffic replacing blues chords and blistering arpeggios with a smile on your face. You take a deep breath and make your first step towards home.
Just don’t leave it so long next time, Paul.