It’s a small venue, the smallest of Manchester Academy’s 4 venues, but it’s packed to the rafters tonight for one of the world’s best and most loved guitarists, the legendary Paul Gilbert.
Support for tonight comes in the form of ‘Blackballed’, a Manchester-based 3-piece (founded by an old member of New Model Army nonetheless!) full of bluesy swagger, Guinness and lots of microphone camaraderie. Perfectly suited for this gig, their vibe and blues/rock attitude warmed the crowd up nicely. They already have two albums under their belts and, despite only having two days to prepare and a brand new, untested, drummer, they sounded tight and it was obvious they were having a great time.
But we’re all here for one thing; Paul Gilbert’s fingers. Co-founder of the legendary hard-rock supergroup Mr. Big and heavy metal legends Racer X, Gilbert is, without a doubt, one of the worlds best shredders and it’s a real treat to see him in such a small venue, promoting his newest studio solo album (his 15th no less!), “Behold Electric Guitar”.
Starting off with two tracks from his new album which are received rapturously, with the spotlight not only being on Gilbert himself but also his band, bassist Roland Guerin, keyboardist Asher Fulero and drummer Bill Ray, having their obligatory solo moments. A surprise cover of ‘Green-Tinted Sixties Mind’ by Mr. Big is followed by ‘Gonna Fly Now’ AKA the theme from Rocky, which delights the audience. Gilbert is extremely chatty on the microphone, telling us tales of how he created some of his songs (“Sir, You Need to Calm Down” for example, was written after a harrowing long-distance traveling schedule and a missed flight, cumulating in airport staff telling a despondent and angry Gilbert that he does indeed need to calm down). Track after track is taken from his new album, but in there are more covers that delight the audience, the lack of vocals not in the slightest noticed as Gilbert plays the majority of the vocal melodies on one of his numerous guitars. A medley of ‘Carry on Wayward Son’ & ‘Running with the Devil’ is a highlight, but mixing ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’ with the main riff from Racer X’s ‘Scarified’ is a stroke of genius that leaves many of the audience, myself included, with a giant grin on their faces.
Technical difficulties followed, but not the track (which would have been his only non-new album track!), with his amps, which means a cover of The Yardbirds ‘Still I’m Sad’ is restarted 3 times, but a sheepish but cheerful Gilbert, nails it on the 3rd.
Two more tracks from ‘Behold Electric Guitar’ fly by, with ‘Love is the Saddest Thing’ being funkier than the rest of the set making it the best track to end on. No encore this time (I suspect time issues from the afore-mentioned technical difficulties) but no one is complaining, the opportunity to see one of the worlds most talented and prolific guitar players on such a small stage is not one to be sniffed at. A great gig from a great personality and talent.
All photos by Donna Craddock