Michigan native Frankie Ballard and band return to the UK for their second stint since their debut at the C2C festival. Trekking across the UK on a 7 date tour, the band is no stranger to the long haul, with substantial road and air miles clocked in support of Ballard’s last instalment, 2016’s El Rio’.
Reaching Manchester’s Gorilla for the evening, upon arrival it was encouraging to see so many in attendance for a bank holiday weekend. With the house lights dimmed, synchronised cowboy western music resonated throughout the venue coupled with hasty darting lights amidst a voice over introducing the band to mass applause.
A heavily funked-up rendition of ‘Drinky Drink’ opened the evening’s proceedings, easing in the capacity crowd.
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Following suit was the energetic, groove ladened ‘Young & Crazy’; one of Ballard’s chart bothering tracks that had many in attendance singing every lyric. With Ballard taking a minute to address the crowd, showing sincerity in his appreciation of the support from the UK fans enabling him to return to packed houses once again.
Despite Ballard seemingly a solo outfit, after watching the band cohesively jam and musically ricochet off one another, it appears to not be the case at all. With a nod to Johnny Cash, courtesy of Ballard spotting a front row fan’s t shirt. Strutting around, materialising into an unadulterated version of Folsom Prison Blues’, culminating with an impressive extensive blues solo.
Towards the mid section the band proved an impenetrable force, delivering an array of fan favourites amidst many anecdotes. While recording ‘El Rio’ Ballard recollected the warm hospitality by Mexican ladies who fed the band before delving into the effortless ‘Wasting Time’ before a prolonged jam, channelling their blues influences. In between tracks there was plenty of audience interaction, in most part providing anecdotal introductions for the tracks.
Throughout the latter half of the set Ballard segued from song to song effortlessly, alternating between being the animated front man to the guitar aficionado that only further engaged the already attentive crowd. From what appears to be almost that of a staple in Ballard’s set is an inevitable Elvis medley. A jam transmitted, evolving into the classics ‘So Lonely’ and ‘Hound Dog’, accompanied by Ballard exhibiting an unfeigned swagger that even the king would be impressed by.
Rather surprisingly the track that put Ballard on the map, 2014’s ‘Sunshine & Whiskey’, was the penultimate track. The fan favourite went down a storm; with it being the greatest reception of the evening, what appeared to be everybody in attendance getting their groove on whilst singing every word. The energy exuded from the stage was contagious, everyone in high spirits, basking in the positive ambience hoping for it to never end.
The antithesis to ‘Sunshine & Whiskey’ was the climatic ‘You Could’ve Loved Me’. The stripped back compassionate, melancholic undertones shouldn’t have worked as the closer; after all it went against the conventions of ending on an upbeat tempo. Yet it worked perfectly, even if a bittersweet choice.
Despite the band touring the UK this time round with no fresh material to promote, it didn’t seem to matter. The substance, the flawless musicianship, the showmanship and entertainer in front man Frankie Ballard were all present and that’s what counted. With a diverse set list; inclusive of jam sessions, prolonged meandering solos, anecdotes and well executed cover medleys, every ounce of energy and passion was poured directly into the impeccable performance.
Young & Crazy
Little Bit Of Both
Folsom Prison Blues (Johnny Cash cover)
Tell Me You Get Lonely
It All Started With A Beer
Good As Gold
Elvis medley: Hound Dog/So Lonely
You’ll Accomp’ny Me
Sunshine & Whiskey
You Could’ve Loved Me