Davy Knowles Performs With Almost Unrivaled Intensity & Dexterity at Higher Ground (SHOW REVIEW)

There’s an old adage that states ‘familiarity breeds contempt,” but that truism certainly does not apply to Davy Knowles and his Vermont followers. The one about word-of-mouth being the best publicity certainly does though: on the Isle of Man native’s previous visit to the Showcase Lounge at Higher Ground in August of 2016, many of those in attendance had seen the comparatively young blues-rocker on more than one of his prior half-dozen appearances in the Greater Burlington area (some with the now-defunct Backdoor Slam band) and their were more than a few returnees this time among a crowd twice that size.

Within seconds of striding briskly onto the stage at 8pm showtime sharp on November 3rd, Davy Knowles and his band were playing with an intensity most performers can’t, won’t or don’t conjure up until the last forty minutes of their playing. And when the guitarist, resplendent in his fedora and record label logo T-shirt, steered off into a comparatively more subdued realm with his three accompanists, the sound wasn’t all that much less intense, only quieter. Such was the ebb and flow the foursome maintained for virtually the entire duration of their two hours on stage.  

The format for this single set matched that of the previous Knowles concert—but only superficially. Sandwiching two full-band presentations around a twenty-minute solo acoustic interval allowed Knowles to fully affirm his dexterity with his instrument, mainly through handling his self-avowed pride and joy of a 1932 Resonator National steel instrument for this unplugged segment. It was altogether remarkable to watch his absolutely fluent transitions from rhythm chording to precise picking on his cover of hero Rory Gallagher’s “As The Crow Flies” (written by the late Irish bluesman’s own role model Tony Joe White).

“Amber’s Song,” sounded even more tranquil by contrast with that number,  as well as the fervent autobiography of  Knowles’ own “First Words of A Changing Man.”  And the straightforward structure of the aforementioned ode of devotion to his newly-betrothed,  as with a newly-composed homage to those of “Drunk Mind, Sober Heart,” suggested Davy could have a pop hit if he wanted one, at least based on the crowd’s reaction.

As when he introduced the latter, tongue-in-cheek tune, on this full-moonlit night there was often a devilish grin lighting up Davy’s face as he played, no less often when he’s encouraging acclamation of his accompanists as when he’s in the throes of a feverish solo. Accepting at face value Knowles’ declaration of how much the group enjoys its Vermont tour stops, besides the leader’s own guitar heroics–of which there were plenty but on none of which he succumbed to meandering excess–each of the three other instrumentalists made his respective presence felt.

In a truncated solo, for instance, drummer Michael Caskey displayed the ensemble’s shared mastery of dynamics. Whether via rollicking piano or doom-laden organ backdrops, keyboardist Andrew Toombs remained assertive in filling out an otherwise skeletal sound. And though it was always possible to feel the propulsive push from Marvin Little’s bass, it was never more apparent than when he turned  Cream’s “Outside Woman Blues” into a funk workout; in contrast to an earlier evocation of the ominous tones favored by the great British quartet Free, the momentum  of the show was dissipating at this point, via the preceding slow blues, but Knowles and company recaptured it right there and then with the cover of  Blind Joe Reynolds’.

And as much of a logical choice as was that cover of the iconic power trio’s, fronted as it was by Eric Clapton. the encore selection of Bruce Springsteen’s “Adam Raised A Cain” made just as much sense, coming completely as it did with bluesy vocal shouts all around. No reaffirmation of  roots was really necessary at this point, but regardless, this guitar-heavy cull from the Boss’ 1978 masterwork, Darkness on the Edge of Town, gave Davy Knowles one more chance to shine and he made the most of it: his soloing remained bereft of flash but rife with passion, while his rhythm work  kept the foursome reined in for a genuinely dramatic finish.

In comparison with the last year’s visit, the latest Davy Knowles sighting in Vermont brought out at least twice as many attendees before, i,e., around two hundred. And because even fewer left early than cleared out quickly at show’s end, there was no doubt a collective satisfaction proportional to the pre-show anticipation. All of which no doubt makes the return of this thirty-year-old wunderkind an absolute lock, though the mutual affection on the rise may call for him to play the larger room in the South Burlington venue, whether it’s a Friday night like this one or during the working week.

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