The Red Devils are back, having just completed their first three gigs in 23 years. They returned triumphant June 2-4 in The Netherlands.
Photos and videos of the shows are plentiful, and too many to catalog here. Many of the videos are captured in The Red Devils Facebook group. Also check the Facebook pages for Paul Size, Mike Flanigin and Big Pete, too. The entire Ribs and Blues Festival set is available on Facebook, if you know where to look. Twanny’s Blues has plenty of June 3 Bosuil videos on YouTube, or watch the whole show here. June 2 Fluor clips are available from Joop Chevy on YouTube.
Here are the things that stuck out to us after watching the first three Red Devils shows:
1. There is only one …
From the very first notes of the very first song of the very first gig, it’s clear: These are The Red Devils, and nobody else.
For a generation of fans who only have 24-year-old YouTube videos to go off of, the ’17 Devils are a revelation. The stacks and stacks of bands inspired by the Devils clearly can’t touch them — many of them have been rendered obsolete in just three shows.
You cannot go wrong with Bill Bateman in the driver’s seat, and he makes obvious the fatal flaw for other bands: he just has that beat, locking in with the grooving Jonny Ray Bartel. Paul Size reminds everyone that his guitar playing is singular — his touch and instincts are all still there. He’s been missed.
If you can’t have Dave Lee Bartel onstage, then bring back Mike Flanigin, holding down rhythm guitar. Kudos to the Devils for bringing back a different “brother” when they could have gotten a ringer.
2. Big Pete gets the job done …
Big Pete role is probably hardest, as there is such mythology around the late Lester Butler in Europe — his playing, his vibe, not to mention his underrated vocals.
A fan and an artist with a following in his own right, Pete is the wisest pick to nail the style — and also come correct for Lester, the man and musician.
Pete’s harp-playing smartly going to Butler’s influences to inform his own unique playing. He leads the band with confidence and embodies the songs, bringing them to life for the first time in ages.
His vocals are tougher, more traditionally blues-rock, but fit with the band’s spirit; no mere tribute or imitation. He doesn’t ape Butler, and is most successful vocally when he trusts his own instincts and style.
3. A few surprises …
The three days of shows stuck close to home base, and rightly so. This was 80 percent reunion, 17 percent nostalgia, and a spike of mission statement.
The Devils’ story was cut short in 1994. For all their promise, in-fighting, drugs, money, canceled albums and a bunch more troubles meant they never fulfilled their promise.
These gigs go a long way to showing what the world’s been missing for two decades. Despite any rust, these are pros who made every moment mean something — and at times became incendiary.
It was great to hear “No Fightin’’” and “Mr. Highway Man.” European fans gotta love “Blackwater Roll.” There were old live favorites like “Who Do You Love?” “Tail Dragger” received a stomping vibrancy. Size and Flanigin paid tribute to the Texas icon Freddie King on “Sen-Sa-Shun.” Bateman finally took the “Off the Wall” drum break promised in “Automatic.” “The Hook” was a deep track on the “Blackwater Roll” EP, and probably the most shocking song to get time.
The biggest surprise? How quickly the band gelled, bringing their classic sound back to life.
4. The fans come first …
On night two, during their rousing “I Was Wrong” — a tune that has become mythic thanks to a memorable video performance at PinkPop 1993 — Paul Size gave the crowd what they wanted.
Just like the video, one of the few breadcrumbs fans have been gnawing on for years, Size rips off a terrifying solo. He claps his hands above his head, and even introduces Big Pete’s solo just as he did Lester Butler’s more than 24 years ago.
While the 1993 Devils were spontaneous and dangerous, the 2017 version (at least on these nights) were thankful and aware of the fans who never forgot them, though their original time was short.
If Size gifted fans some recognizable moments, the fans gave it back — with crowds swinging back and forth and singing “Automatic” with Big Pete.
5. What’s next?
The simple answer is … not much. The Red Devils hit the autobahn with ZZ Top in July. They won’t have the chance to experiment onstage; they are a support act, and it’s ZZ’s crowd. Those club dates, though, could be killers.
The Red Devils have no record label. They have no marketing team, no promotion, no social media. Sounds like they have one T-shirt for sale this summer, but no new music or reissues. Everyone in the band is otherwise engaged, personally and professionally. “The Kid” is now middle-aged!
But at the end of July, in a dressing room, hugs and handshakes, feeling well-oiled and in-tune … what will they decide to do after that?