Chasing the Devils’ Tale: Tour dispatches from Europe (parts 1-7)

Nofightin.com is following The Red Devils on tour through Europe, whether they like it or not. Come here for our dispatches from every show as we go. Words and others by J.J. Perry; tour photography by Tina Hanagan

ZZ ROOFTOP (Show 1: Stimmen Festival, Lorrach, Germany 21.7.17)

I wrote about The Red Devils show earlier. But here is what didn’t happen onstage.

Hundreds and hundreds of fans (an organizer told us capacity is 5,000) crammed into the old marketplace square, an intersection of several streets where the stage was set. Stimmen is a several-week festival, with an eclectic lineup (the day after ZZ was a performance by Grace Jones).

After the Devils’ set, we muscled through an elbow-to-ass crowd to a hotel bar for beers. We met Paul Size when he came down for a refill and he invited us up to his room where, from two large open windows, we could watch ZZ Top’s set.

So that’s what we did: Shoot the breeze with Paul and Mike Flanigin, take pics, make Facetime calls to friends and talk about the tour. And, Tina and I left our rain ponchos in Paul’s room. That was not on purpose.

Thank you to Jan Obri and Stimmen Festival for their hospitality.


Billy Gibbons, right, plays the “Red Devil” guitar that he gave to Mike Flanigin. Photo by Tina Hanagan

THE LONGEST BEER LINE (Show 2: Sommerfestival, Rosenheim, Germany 22.7.17)

Ten thousand German bikers and ZZ Top fans.

An 86-degree outdoor summer festival.

Two beer lines.

Do your own math.

Sommerfest seems incredibly popular in this cute little town, but the beer situation should give you some idea of how well its organized. More on that later.

The Red Devils’ played a longer opening set for ZZ Top Saturday in the unforgiving heat. Somehow Big Pete and Paul both managed to play wearing leather jackets.

Their set was strong, punctuated by the stellar Little Walter instrumental “Blue Light,” dedicated to Lester Butler (“way up high or way down low, we just don’t know,” according to Pete). Besides showcasing Pete’s chromatic harmonica, a new texture for The Red Devils, it also demonstrated the band’s incredible restraint on a slow blues. We think of these guys as hard and edgy, but they are just as capable playing subtle blues the right way.

Unlike Stimmen Festival, Sommerfestival seemed disorganized, though the crowd didnt seem to mind (maybe they are used to it?). Basically, if you wanted a beer, there seemed to be only two places serving, with intensely long lines. I stood in one unmoving line for 20 minutes before I gave up. (Somehow, though, we saw a security guard, ostensibly on duty, drinking from a bottle. How about that?)

If we have to choose between a beer line and music, we will probably pick music. Some in the crowd made a different choice.

Tina was not able to get any great pics from Sommerfestival. Despite putting in a request for media credentials more than a month ago. I never heard back so I messaged them on Facebook and was told to send an email. So, I did again. Never heard back.

When I went to check on the credentials Saturday at the box office, the woman there called someone else, came back and said “yes they got your request, but it is denied.” That would have been great to know before we left the U.S. Frankly, that was their screwup and should have been fixed.

But what should I expect from the festival with two beer lines for 10,000 people?

Thanks to Jonny Ray Bartel for hooking us up for the show. A class act.


SETLIST:

  1. Mr. Highway Man
  2. Goin’ To The Church
  3. Blackwater Roll
  4. Just Your Fool
  5. Devil Woman
  6. The Hook
  7. Blue Light
  8. Checkin Up On My Baby
  9. Who Do You Love?
  10. Time to Cry
  11. Backstroke / You Were Wrong

HANDS UP IN HALLE (Show 3: Gerry Weber Stadium, Halle, Germany 23.7.17)

Our third Red Devils show was probably the strongest set we’ve seen from the gang so far. Maybe it was the venue — a large, covered tennis arena with a big echo and sound. Whatever it was, the boys came out swinging Sunday. Jonny Ray Bartel earlier had mentioned connecting with the audience, and this crowd (thousands of people; the stadium holds 12,000 for tennis, and this could have been 10K) was ready.

Bill Bateman sounds built for this kind of venue. Honestly, if people say blues can’t play in bigger arenas, they’ve not heard Bill shuffle and kick in a giant open space. Jonny Ray, too, was thumping, and this was probably the strongest bottom we’ve heard from the rhythm section so far.



But Paul Size, again, was a star. The show built up to the “Backstroke / You Were Wrong” finale, and Paul was in the zone. His soloing here is surprising and takes unexpected, angular turns. It was impressive to hear how “modern” some of his playing sounded, given that he could just go through the motions and get the job done. But when you hear these guys reaching and stretching out, you love it even more.

So many hands were overhead clapping during Paul’s solo that it looked like a stickup — Big Pete could’ve jumped down there and lifted several wallets. Shades of PinkPop ’93.

One of the very coolest things last night was meeting up with folks from The Red Devils Facebook group. Somehow, we spotted Sheila Dessener all away across the arena. And she saw us too as we waved to each other over several hundreds folks dancing in front of the stage.


Sjoukje, J.J., Sheila and Tina. Group-effort photo

Sheila, from Holland, has been attending a bunch of shows this summer with her friend, Sjoukje Terpstra. Sheila said she has been a Devils fan since 1994 when she and her mother saw the now-legendary PinkPop performance on TV. They were blown away.

When they found out several months later than the band was playing in their town of Leeuwarden, mom and daughter attended and made friends with the band — connections that have lasted all these years. These were clearly special memories for Sheila, and it was exciting to hear another fan’s story.

SETLIST:

  1. Mr. Highway Man
  2. Goin’ To The Church
  3. Blackwater Roll
  4. Just Your Fool
  5. The Hook
  6. Devil Woman
  7. Time to Cry
  8. Backstroke / You Were Wrong

NEXT FOR NOFIGHTIN: Glasgow, Scotland

DEVIL-READY (Show 4: O2 Academy, Glasgow, Scotland, 26.7.17)

As I write this, we are stuck at the Glasgow airport, with our flight 3 hours delayed. Besides us, there is one massive ZZ Top fan — and 1/3 of ZZ Top.

Seems like the perfect circumstances for us to think about last night’s show at the O2 Academy in Glasgow, Scotland. Both bands — The Red Devils and the Top — were stellar. This was our first time seeing both bands from stage front, loud, powerful and earning every bit of the night.


Photo Copyright Tina Hanagan

The acoustics of this large, old theater benefitted the Devils — somewhere between packed nightclub and arena.

The difference was apparent as soon as the band came onstage. One of the coolest parts of The Red Devils’ presentation is how their show starts. The band is on stage tuning, adjusting their volumes, until they are all playing a buildup that stops as the PA announcer says, “From Hollywood, California … The Red Devils!” Big Pete stomps the count and the band launches into “Mr. Highway Man.” Tension and release!


​But let’s talk about those headliners …

ZZ Top kills nightly with a smartly chosen setlist, amazing stage presence and the chops and confidence that comes with five decades of playing together.

While Billy Gibbons attracts attention, he passes it on to bassist Dusty Hill, too, an impish troublemaker to Billy’s world-wide and world-wise blues magician. The two of them have a playful bromance onstage with hand gestures, hand shakes, pantomimes and smiles.

A favorite moment: At the line “like a boomarang I need a repeat” during “Gimme All Your Lovin'” Dusty casually flips an imaginary boomarang from his right hip. And, as if in real time, Billy makes a one-handed blind catch. It’s one of dozens of subtle moments of choreographed interplay between the two.

Photo copyright Tina Hanagan

Frank Beard is the unsung hero of this band. Where ZZ can generally muster most of the impressive soundscape of their mid-80s superhits, Beard is impeccable playing with precision sheen on “Sharp Dressed Man” and Texas grit on “La Grange.”

What will stick with us was the friendliness and excitement of the Glasgow people. Over our whole stay, all the way to the end of the gig, we met good people.


The fans at the O2 Academy in Glasgow. Photo by J.J. Perry

One of those people was Nick, a ZZ Top superfan from Dorset, England.

We stood next to him at the concert, and then spent time waiting with him at the Glasgow airport.

Since 1980, Nick has seen 82 ZZ concerts. Eight-two. He says he logged a dozen shows in 2016, and plans eight total this year.

He has an intense grasp of ZZ history, and his own relationship with the band from his gateway album (“Fandango”) to his first gig (“1980 at the Hammersmith Odeon, the first time they ever came to Europe”) to the best show he’s ever seen (“For sound quality … it was ironically an outdoor show. ZZ Top headlined Castle Donington in 1985. They were brilliant.”).

Incredible. And now he waits at the airport with one of his heroes.

And the tour rolls on.

SETLIST:

  1. Mr. Highway Man
  2. Goin’ To The Church
  3. Blackwater Roll
  4. Just Your Fool
  5. Time to Cry
  6. The Hook
  7. Backstroke / You Were Wrong

NEXT FOR NOFIGHTIN.COM: DUBLIN, IRELAND

FAREWELL TO ZZ TOP TOUR (Show 5: 3Arena, Dublin, Ireland, 28.7.17)


On the 25th anniversary of “King King,” the reformed Red Devils celebrated with a red-hot set to thousands in Ireland on their last night opening the ZZ Top Tonnage tour.

Their performance Friday at the cavernous 3Arena in Dublin was a testament to what a month on the road can do for a band. It was the culmination of a years-in-the-making tour — The Red Devils and ZZ Top. So there was some sense of relief, and accomplishment.

Someone asked me a few days ago how the 2017 Red Devils compare to 1992; I would say now it was cool to see the 2017 band smiling onstage!

Friday night, the band was given an additional 15 minutes and a wide stage. They used everything allotted in a muscular 10-song set.


Jonny Ray Bartel. Copyright Tina Hanagan

There were two undeniable highlights Friday, among many.

First was the band’s dynamic “Blue Light.” Giving the Devils 45 minutes allowed an expanded set, and they showed swagger by including a slow blues. And it is not an “arena blues,” either: Played as a sparse four-piece (Mike Flanigin sat out) with Big Pete on chromatic, the band brought 9,000 ZZ fans into the club. The rhythm section was key here — Jonny Ray Bartel avoided the obvious walking bassline in favor of something more ominous, and Bill Bateman played as simply and sympathetically as can be done in an arena setting.


Bill Bateman. Copyright Tina Hanagan

As Big Pete remarked after the show: What other blues band is playing to crowds that size, and how many would have balls enough to play a slow chromatic blues instrumental at that moment?

The band’s raucous reading of “Who Do You Love” was a perfect addition to the longer set, and just the right kind of rocker for the ZZ Top diehards. As Bartel and Flanigin invade Bateman’s personal space behind the drums, Big Pete dances behind Paul Size, conjuring some deep Diddley hoodoo.

What a fantastic way to end the ZZ Top portion of the tour, and bookend an incredible 25-year ride.

Congrats boys, and on to the next one.


Aftermath at 3Arena Dublin

SETLIST:

  1. Mr. Highway Man
  2. Goin’ To the Church
  3. Blackwater Roll
  4. Just Your Fool
  5. Time to Cry
  6. Blue Light
  7. The Hook
  8. Who Do You Love
  9. Checkin’ Up On My Baby
  10. Backstroke / You Were Wrong

NEXT: Poynton, UK

FUNKIEST JUKE IN ENGLAND (Show 6: Bluefunk club, Poynton, UK, 29.7.17)

A 15-minute cab ride south from Stockport, UK, will transport a visitor to an amazing blues oasis where it is least expected.

Poynton is small — a one-church town where the latest excitement is the new roundabout leading in from the quiet English countryside.

Down a side street in this little hamlet is a sign for the Poynton Legion, a nondescript building tucked behind a line of bushes.

Inside is the funkiest little country juke joint in the Queen’s England.

The Bluefunk Rhythm and Blues Club is a mobile shangri-la masquerading as a legion hall. Rows of empty chairs and tables, starting at the edge of the small stage and working back, looks optimistic — are there even 130 citizens in Poynton? But an hour and a half later, the club will be packed, beers will be poured, and new friends made.

The master of ceremonies is Garry White, a blues lover, booker and promoter who is bringing the best of blues to this unexpected spot, and several others, for 11 years. He seems to have that “it” factor — if Garry tells you the show is worth your time and money, the audience comes. If he tells you to get up and dance, get in line for a beer or buy some band merchandise, you do it. Garry knows best.

The audience skews a bit older — on this evening including four ladies drinking wine who seemed dressed for Sunday morning, not Saturday night — but are open to anything Garry says they should pay attention to.

In coming weeks, that includes harp great Billy Branch, Hamilton Loomis and Jim Suhler and Monkey Beat. At its Dec. 16 Christmas show, the Bluefunk will welcome favorite Robin Davey of The Hoax, DVL and Beaux Gris Gris.

But on this Saturday night, the people of Poynton experience the return of The Red Devils.

The blue curtain, buzzy PA and intimate crowd told the band they weren’t in Dublin anymore. Just 25 hours earlier, the Devils were opening their last show with ZZ Top to an audience of about 9,000 or so.

Free from the pressure of the Tonnage tour, and in a roomful of friendly music lovers, the Devils let loose with a relaxed and eclectic show — even when they did wrong they could do no wrong. It was triumphant, exhilarating.

No one embodied that spirit more than Bill Bateman. Unleashed from the formality of the opener’s spot, Bateman played aggressively, in a musical in a way he hasn’t during the tour stops we have seen.

With sweat flying from his forearms and wrists, soaked to the bone through a red shirt (Mike Flanigin said if the other guys looked like they jumped in a pool, Bill looked like he jumped in two pools) he pushed the music ever forward. At times his playing was lyrical, like on “Wish You Would,” seemingly carrying the melody and the rhythm simultaneously.

Instrumentals such as “Mary Had a Little Lamb” allowed guitarists Paul Size and Mike Flanigin to show their chops — especially on the Freddie-King-in-the-pipeline frenzy of “Sen Sa Shun.” On an insistent “No Fightin’,” Flanigin demonstrated the importance that Les Paul rhythm to The Red Devils sound.

The looseness was orchestrated by Big Pete and Jonny Ray Bartel, who joked and laughed with the crowd between songs, mugging for cameras and making the joint one big party.

Whether it was planned or not, Big Pete doing the false-endings of “Cut That Out” at the finale of “Taildragger” was just another moment of levity and spontaneity that made this gig special — and a great warmup for their finale Sunday at the Borderline in London.


With Garry White and Alicia Borowska at the BlueFunk.

Thank you to Garry and the whole staff, crew and audience at the Bluefunk for making our visit so memorable. Cheers!

SET 1

  1. Mr. Highway Man
  2. Goin’ To The Church
  3. Wish You Would
  4. Blackwater Roll
  5. Just Your Fool
  6. Blue Light
  7. Devil Woman
  8. Mary Had a Little Lamb (instrumental)
  9. The Hook

SET 2

  1. Checkin’ Up On My Baby
  2. Commit a Crime
  3. Taildragger
  4. No Fightin’
  5. She’s Dangerous
  6. Sen Sa Shun
  7. Time to Cry
  8. Automatic

ENCORE: Backstroke / You Were Wrong

LAST STOP: We wrap up at The Borderline, London, Sunday night.

IN LONDON, A RETURN & FINALE (Show 7: The Borderline, London, England, 30.7.17)

The club, tucked away in a sidestreet alley, isn’t the same at it was.

Band photos used to line the walls which are now sparse, broken only by arty cattle skulls.

A large bar sits in the middle of the room in a spot that, back in 1993, many folks would pack in and watch the bands.

But on this Sunday night, friends old and new, flowing beer and the music of The Red Devils brought back a flood of memories at the Borderline in London for the finale of the band’s European tour.

The fog of the past hung over the audience, and around the band. Yes, this was the place where Sir Mick Jagger came to watch the Devils. Yes, this was the place where a long-circulated bootleg was recorded, one of the earliest Red Devils boots of the internet age.

For many in the devoted crowd — older, grayer — this was the first or second time they had seen the band. Maybe it was 23 or 24 years ago, with Lester Butler leading the charge. Some wore Blasters or Stones T-shirts, with tattoos old enough to drink. Some witnessed them for the first time only days earlier with ZZ Top and were sold instantly.

Or, like one young man, they were Red Devils fans who fell in love with the band after the breakup, collected all the recordings, watched all the YouTube videos, and never expected that the band would ever get back together.

And there they were.

It was a helluva show.

Through these last couple of weeks, we have seen The Red Devils at festivals, in arenas and even a Legion hall. But The Borderline is where the Devils proved once again that they can be the best bar band in the world any night they want — in 1992 or 2017.

I could tell you about the set — called out by the band members from the stage, keys and tempos agreed upon as the first notes were struck — but that would be redundant to your own best expectations. Yes, they were that good.

More telling, and ultimately more satisfying, was being in a bar crowd (finally!) with Red Devils fans. You could look toward strangers (soon to be compadres) and nod and smile in a way that said, “This is the real shit … and we are here!” High fives, fist bumps, hugs, toasts and pictures were the order of the night, in what might have been the most documented Sunday night blues band club show in SOHO history.

It was this live sound, ably resurrected by Big Pete, Paul Size, Mike Flanigin, Jonny Ray Bartel and Bill Bateman, that inspired more than one band or musician represented in the crowd that night. It was “King King” come to life, just as you hoped it would be.

There were highlights, of course: Paul calling out Gatemouth Brown’s jumping instrumental “Okie Dokie Stomp”; a “Who Do You Love?” that detoured into some Hendrix, in a good way; a sharp take on “No Fightin'” — this time selected by Big Pete for the “Cut That Out” false ending treatment.

It was loud. It was sweaty. It was a revival. And it was emotional. No one wanted to leave. It was The Red Devils! Who would want it to end?

But if this was the last show, the band left everything on the stage, writing a new, more fitting chapter to the end of The Red Devils saga.

Or, we can hang onto to these words from Big Pete as the final notes of closer “Taildragger” rang: “Well be back real soon … I hope.”

SET 1

  1. Mr. Highway Man
  2. Goin’ To The Church
  3. Blackwater Roll
  4. Wish You Would
  5. Just Your Fool
  6. Devil Woman
  7. Okie Dokie Stomp
  8. Blue Light
  9. The Hook

SET 2

  1. Checkin’ Up On My Baby
  2. She’s Dangerous
  3. Commit a Crime
  4. Who Do You Love?
  5. Time to Cry
  6. No Fightin’
  7. Automatic

ENCORE 1: Backstroke

ENCORE 2: Taildragger

3 Responses to “Chasing the Devils’ Tale: Tour dispatches from Europe (parts 1-7)”

  1. michael sutherland Says:

    Hi JJ.Great to meet you in Glasgow o2.was a great gig found The Red Devils on Spotify and the Blasters as well .you have a cracking web page here.enjoy the gig tonight in Dublin and no more delays with the flights.

  2. Thanks Michael! Keep in touch

  3. Thanks JJ for a wonderful review of an even more wonderful performance from the Red Devils at our beloved Bluefunk Club. The rebuilding of the tiny town of Poynton is already underway and it should be back to normal in less than six months. The Club roof has been put back on but the damage to the Bowling Green where it landed looks terminal. People are still walking the streets in a daze muttering “wow”, “Jeez” “what the….” etc. but the emergency services have said there is no permanent damage and they will eventually recover 100%.
    It was great to meet you and look forward to the next time you make parole.

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