Review: Chris Rea: Santo Spirito Blues, Usher Hall

AT first glance, a Chris Rea concert seems to be the place where Rockers go to die.***

It’s not about age – the audience was filled with a wide mix of people – it’s more a state of mind. The punters were polite. Polite in a way that classical audiences or golf fans are polite. It’s as if the Pink Floyd T-shirts, cheap beer and 45s have been willingly traded in for white wine, decent haircuts and Ford Focuses. Listening attentively and applauding enthusiastically at the end of songs, the audience really got to grips with the blues-laced set that is Chris Rea’s latest exploration of his art.

The problem is that Chris seems to be all about the music too, his intense focus coming at the cost of other elements of the show.

He’s got some mellifluous slide guitar going on when it doesn’t veer dangerously into the sort of squeals a tortured rabbit makes. His band are an experienced blues outfit that get down on the right side of mellow, creating an outstanding atmosphere on stage as the evening progressed. Yet that didn’t translate to the auditorium. Poor sound balance, with heavy emphasis on bass notes, a light show that seemed to have been designed to weed out any epileptics in the hall and a set that looked to have been poached from Eurovision circa 1995 let the side down abysmally. It was as if the entire production was so focused on getting the music right that the finer details of conveying it effectively had been forgotten.

Fan favourites like Josephine, Julia and The Road To Hell went down well and the audience really warmed into the last few songs, a handful even getting up to dance as the end neared. Interestingly for a veteran performer, Rea didn’t really engage personally with the audience. No pause for a chat or any insight into why the performer had written and chosen the music for his tour.

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    In such an intimate setting as the Usher Hall, it’s a disappointment to see a seasoned performer so disengaged with the needs of his venue and audience.