King Solomon Hicks // Toby Lee // Live Review // The 100 Club // London
Harlem to London seems a damn long way when counting the steps. But tonight down at the infamous 100 Club it couldn’t feel closer to home as the finger tricking bluesman that is King Solomon Hicks brings us right to his front porch of soul and inspiration.
An avid blues fan myself, I’d spent the last few weeks unashamedly pressing my ear into every crisp corner of King Solomon’s discography. In 2015 he released his debut album, the appropriately named ‘Carrying On the Torch of the Blues’, which saw him indulge in a scene he was already a pivotal part of and provide the budding seeds from which a loyal fan base would sprout. Being the lucky owner of both instrumental and vocal talents, Hicks’ two records are mashups of lyricism and soloing in equal parts and as always I was more than eager to see which delicious diversions from his material we would see in the live show. I mean, what is a blues gig without those spine-tingling improv moments?
So, walking down the cherry red steps into the venue that so many legends have walked down before me I steal a good spot and await the young – but by no means inexperienced- support act, Toby Lee. The teen sensation dubbed ‘the future of blues’ by Joe Bonamassa himself has a back catalogue to make any decades-long dedicator yearn on in wanting awe and a work ethic that suggests he won’t be done with the scene anytime soon.
Lee snarls his way through a riff entwining set with popular tracks ‘One Foot On The Path’ and ‘The Search For Happiness’ as well as the latest single release, ‘Lie To Me’ along with a personal favourite of mine, ‘Kansas City’ amongst others. The way his expression contorts with each string bend and guitar neck raise make for a visually striking performance on his sleek Gibson Firebird which has not two, but three pick-ups. Lee’s band is well seasoned and stylish with a telling nature that promises longevity. I very much look forward to seeing his inevitable rise to arena level tours and output of more hair raising blues creations.
Whilst Lee was playing his set I took a moment to scout the audience and came across the face of someone who looked awfully familiar from the abundance of scattered flyers around the club. King Solomon Hicks himself was taking time out of the usually expected ‘star pre-show prep’ to watch his support in action. I approached him with caution (who wants to tick off the main act before the show has even begun?!) but as soon as he turned to me with that infectious smile and humility laden cheer, I knew I was in safe hands. Hicks took the time to have a small chat and agreed to speak with me after the show.
Oh, and what a show it was!
Steering away from the usual five-piece blues band setup, Hicks took to the stage with three-time Grammy award winner Kirk Yano on bass, ex Wings drummer Steve Holley and of course his own trusty Benedetto guitar. Dressed in a show-stopping white, cire like a material blazer and a presence to capture any crowd, Hicks steps onto the stage.
From start to finish the playing is unequivocally delectable. Hicks and his band take each song on as though it would be their last. ‘Every Day I Have The Blues’, ‘When The Devil Loves’, ‘Have mercy On Me’ and the rest of his creatively concocted sophomore album -‘Harlem’ -is demonstrated in the most enrapturing way without ever breaking tempo.
The covers are also plenty but always welcomed. ‘Headed Back To Memphis’ and ‘I’d Rather Be Blind’ demonstrate his love for those classics that would leave any listener in no doubt of his ability to work a fresh take on those timeless numbers. When speaking to him after the show I asked him about his choice of covers and why he goes for the ones he does… ‘I want to do not just sad blues but, how do you get up from the sadness and dance and bring people together, that’s the type of covers and songs that I gravitate towards. If it rings in me and I can get it to ring in someone else’s heart.’
Whatever he’s doing, it’s clear from the get-go the crowd love him. Each moment he’s up there onstage, Hicks seems to draw out every drop of joy he has when playing and pours it out to the audience who offer him heaps of cheers and thanks in return.
Joining him briefly onstage is Toby Lee and the two play facing each other in a ‘call and response type of duet that leaves the audience gagging for more. They receive it in the form of regally skilled guitarist Saiichi Sugiyama who compliments Hicks with eye-watering smooth pick work.
If the music alone isn’t enough to entice blues thirsty punters to a King Solomon Hicks show (though I have no clue why it wouldn’t!) then the onstage jamming should. It’s the kind of musicianship expected from the most renowned players and Hicks takes it on with ease. There is a certain charm in the way he plays that is both delicate and purposeful which I find is a rarity these days and should be well respected.
As the night draws to a close and the sweat from Hick’s brow dances onto the willing floor beneath him, it’s well-deserved applause that fills the venue. Passing through his adoring fans after the show, Hicks takes the time to sincerely speak with everyone who approaches him, posing for every camera whilst never losing that signature warmth. A true class act both on and off the stage.
Hicks continues his tour into Europe before heading back over to the States later this month. London will miss him and any next gig booking in the city will be far too long a wait regardless of how soon it is. Winning the Blues Music Award for ‘Harlem’ is just the tip of accolades I’m sure will be hurrying his way and it will be a fine thing to hear what next release will be coming out.
The blues lives on, and in the most majestic way.
Review: Monty Sewell
Photography: Tony Giannattasio
You can listen to his latest album HARLEM via Spotify HERE