Wizardry is synonymous with having a big, white beard, and Friday night at the Cambridge Corn Exchange did not disappoint. Seasick Steve has done the rounds and is now a well-known name, amongst Blues, Rock, Indy and all fans of guitar-based music. His light-hearted manner paired with his wicked sense of humour and gravelly voice, really make for a night of knee-slapping and belly-laughing.
First up, we saw Prinz Grizzley open the show for Steve – a west Austrian take on folk and blues, with a booming bass drum and tight strings and vocals. They got the night off to a great start, easing the audience in and then providing a set list that culminated in singalong opportunities and beginning to feel sweaty. The crowd were suitably Cambridge; quite reserved but quietly appreciative – but Prinz and his band did a great job of loosening people up before the main event.
The sold-out Corn Exchange was heating up and there was an excited sense of anticipation in waiting for Steve to come on stage. In that anticipation and scattered chatting you could have been forgiven missing Steve coming on – he entered stage-left, guitar in-hand, lifted it once to the crowd then took his seat and was ready to go. Steve has a great knack of keeping the crowd wrapped around his little finger with his combination of anecdotes and witticisms – which were in use from the off.
Joined by rhythm-regular (various percussion) Dan Magnusson and other strings (guitars) from Luther Dickinson, Steve was ready to give the Cambridge faithful an education in all things blues. Crazy Dan has been alongside Steve for a long time but the addition of Dickinson’s strings really gave the whole night a feeling of Steve’s already established sound evolving.
The show started at a high-octane pace, the bass drum waking the crowd up and getting them clapping along at every moment, with Steve, Dan and Luther lapping up the well-deserved praise. There was a great feeling of collective appreciation in the audience – often in a Cambridge crowd it can feel like a group of individuals watching a performance, but this really felt like everyone was on the same page and being treated to a fantastic gig. There was the occasional whispering “shhh” from the floor but there was a great feel to the night and appreciative noises coming from all around the venue.
Midway through the set Dan and Luther vacated the stage, leaving Steve to slow things down and get intimate with the audience. He’s a man who’s humour can be on the edge, but he is a charmer, and got the audience onside from the off. After wooing the ladies in the audience with his deep voice and cheeky smile, he performed a couple of old songs and it was a hairs on the back of the neck moment and you could have heard a pin drop. Looking around the venue there were looks of disbelief at how this big, boisterous American could switch to being this tender, soft-sung man at the drop of the hat. Steve calls on his vast life experience and sings like a man who feels and relives those experiences every time, and that really will get the audience purring.
Then for the finale – the boys came back on stage and the crowd were vocal again and we slapped our thighs until the very end. There was a real sense that the 3 men on stage were really enjoying themselves and that there’s new life been blown into Seasick Steve. Steve kicked off his “Can u Cook?” tour in really spectacular style, the perfect balance between new and old tunes, a great onstage presence and fantastic support from Luther and Dan, Seasick Steve made what could have been a boring Friday in November, anything but!
Words: Jack Swindlehurst
Images: Rich Etteridge