Thursday, 2 February 2017

Glenn Hughes - Dirty Hard Rock Burdened by Sorrow - Church, Leeds, 01.02.17.

The diminishing returns of an aged rock vocalist is a well-trodden path in the annals of music. Bob Dylan, Roger Daltrey, Debbie Harry of Blondie, to name but a few, have found their idiosyncratic voices ravaged by the march of time. Whilst some older statesmen continue to defy expectations live, most others have succumbed to the passage of the years. Ian Gillan and David Coverdale are not excluded from this latter cohort; so you could be forgiven for thinking that Glenn Hughes would complete a set of Purple frontmen past their absolute prime.
Glenn Hughes performing live in Newcastle, UK, in
2015. (Credit to David Wala.)
On the contrary, he is on impressive form. Elfin and lissom at sixty-five, like a Burton-esque caricature in purple and black, Hughes still possesses an elastic range and claims full ownership of it over ninety-five minutes of rock and roll. Under a mop of dark hair and aviator shades, he bounces between husky baritone and shrieking falsetto on Muscle and Blood with an enviable ease, and brings impressive acrobatics to the gospel-funk drama of You Keep On Moving. On the groove metal tracks culled from new record Resonate, he sound appropriately heavy, a low-slung gritty menace colouring his tone, in particular on the funk-tinged Flow.

Yet this is a performance encumbered by a quiet mourning, dirty hard rock burdened by sorrow. Hughes’ mother Sheila passed away earlier in the week and the typically charismatic frontman struggles to articulate himself between songs. His stage patter often falls flat and, struck by a cold, he cuts a lonely, hurting figure between songs as he gives treatises about “the human condition”. There is something outrĂ© about this assemblage of hard rock in a disused church; for Hughes, it is a fitting mausoleum in which to channel his pain, the setting and mood appropriately sombre.

It is testament then, to his will, that he still delivers a complete performance, warts and all. Hughes spins on a dime when the music starts, heroically gurning like a pantomime villain as he vamps his way across the stage. His bass work is impeccable and virtuosic – on the nagging, alluring Getting’ Tighter, he takes an extended solo spot where he mixes popping and a wah-wah peddle to mind-boggling effect. For the party-starter number of Soul Mover, his nimble bejewelled fingers on the fretboard resemble more a lead guitar; his tight three-piece band mostly form the foundations on which their bandleader can expand upon his position of rock doyen.
Glenn Hughes performing live in Newcastle, UK, in 2015.
(Credit to David Wala.)
The mood whiplash and extended mid-section however, where the group fall into a jejune rhythm of extended jams, threaten to derail their efforts at points, with the slow blues of Medusa proving particularly monotonous. But Hughes calls upon the sagacious experience of forty-plus years on the road to finish strong, dispatching Purple classic and signature tune Burn with the sheer sound force of a volcanic eruption. “Hold your mamas close,” he implores as the lights dim, with proclamations of support and love echoed back to him; a man left frail by tragedy, but determined to soldier on.

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