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Review: Passionate Chris Rea brings the blues

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Chris Rea

Chris Rea

Chris Rea

Dad rock's coolest soldier has the floor. Chris Rea, driving home (or away) for Christmas, three weeks before the big day? Nah, we don't think so. The 63-year-old Middlesbrough man rarely, if ever, dusts off that classic, Yuletide favourite of his these days (we can't say we blame him, either).

But with an electric guitar in his hands, held aloft like a machine gun, Rea gives us something to laugh about, proving, as he does several times in the space of 90 minutes, that not all blues rockers are grumpy so-and-sos (take note, Mr Clapton). And, not every bluesman in town pretends his instrument is a weapon. In Rea's capable hands, however, that's exactly what it is.

A bit of effort, too, has gone into the stage design (there are decorative guitars on either side of the band as a large screen projects images of cars, dancers and coastlines). "The band!" declares Rea, extending his arms and 'introducing' us to his musical family.

A man of few words, Rea doesn't have a whole lot more to say, but he does laugh. A lot. Oh yes, and he dances, too.

Always at the centre of a zippy, smart and meticulously-crafted set of guitar-centric, soft-rock workouts, Rea is, lest we forget, a guy who almost always emerges victorious from his battles.

At the beginning of his career, Rea fought off pressures from his record label to be the next big piano rocker (boy, did he show them). More than a decade ago, Rea had his pancreas removed after being diagnosed with cancer.

SCREECHING

He could very easily have packed in this touring business, but in keeping fit (and you can tell) and rediscovering his groove (has Rea always been this cool?) the guy has only gone and carved out an awesome heritage show, where screeching fretwork and epic rock compositions (the superb The Road to Hell) stand strong alongside melodic-heavy chart numbers named after various women and the places they lived (Josephine, Julia and Stainsby Girls). Cracking tunes, the lot of them.

On Let's Dance, Rea confirms that, just because he's almost of pensionable age, doesn't mean he hasn't still got magic in those hips (some nice twirling there, my man).

Indeed, Rea exhibits giddiness, warmth and passion for his craft, and the wondrous solos and lavish bouts of crunchy instrumentation between leading man and band are fantastic to behold. That gravelly, distinguished voice of his is in fabulous nick, too.

A competent, sophisticated blues display, Rea triumphantly overcomes the dreaded 'session' curse that normally plagues these kinds of gigs. Clearly, Rea still gets a marvellous kick out of his job. And, at the very least, he reminds us that there's so much more to the guy than a seasonal novelty hit.

PPPP


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