If you were to write down the names of all the Scottish artists and bands who have properly made it in America, it’s fair to say that it would be a very short list. But right up at the top of that list would be Dundee’s Average White Band. So when I heard they were coming back to tour Scotland, I immediately decided to try to cover one of their shows. After all, it’s not often that you get the opportunity to see a band who’s music has become so engrained in popular culture that it’s difficult to imagine anyone alive today who hasn’t heard at least one of their songs.
Obviously AWB’s personnel have changed significantly over the years, but two founding members remain – Alan Gorrie (vocals/bass) and Onnie McIntyre (guitar). They are joined by a collection of seriously good musicians from the US – Fred Vigdor (sax), Rob Aries (keys), Rocky Bryant (drums) and ex Tower of Power frontman Brent Carter (vocals) who completes the lineup.
Friday night’s setlist contained – as you would expect – songs from throughout the bands extraordinary career. And as the band grooved their way through opening song, I Just Can’t Give You Up, I found myself wondering what the US record executives of 40 years ago must’ve made of 6 hairy-arsed Scotsmen writing songs which out-funked and out-grooved the best that Uncle Sam could offer. I guess when the Godfather of Soul himself, James Brown, sets up a side project called Above Average Black Band, it’s fair to say you’ve shaken up the established order of things!
Pretty soon we were heading through some of my personal AWB favourites such as Atlantic Avenue, If I Ever Lose This Heaven, Whatcha Gonna Do For Me and Cut The Cake. I could sit here all day and just write a load of superlatives on how good each individual member of the band is and what they bring to the overall vibe of the bands performance. Whether it’s Brent Carter’s fantastic falsetto vocals or Fred Vigdor’s insanely good saxophony, there’s so much good stuff going on all of the time, from each member of the band, it’s impossible not to get swept away by it all.
And then there was Rocky Bryant’s drum solo…
Ooooooffft! That’s a word that doesn’t appear in any dictionary, but it’s pretty much the only one I can think of (or make up) that could begin to describe Rocky’s drum solo during In The Beginning. I’ve been lucky enough to see some very good drumming performances in recent times, but this one solo didn’t just hit them all out the park, it also poured petrol on them, set them on fire and ground them into the dirt. Equally impressive was the fact it didn’t seem at all self-indulgent, or overstay it’s welcome. A trick that even the great Ginger Baker couldn’t always manage!
Time is an enemy in shows like this, because after what seemed like a blink of an eye we were waiting for the band’s encore. And there was really only two songs they could finish with. First up was Let’s Go Round Again. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard Let’s Go Round Again played by local DJ’s at events and parties. To hear it live, though was something else. Then finally, Onnie McIntyre launched into Pick Up The Pieces’ iconic guitar riff and the band closed out a tremendous set in some style.
So, there you have it. Not your usual CB fayre, but nevertheless one of the very best musical performances I’ve ever seen. Very much ABOVE average!