BWW Review: BLUES NIGHT - with Buddy Guy, Johnny Gallagher and Manu Lanvin at the Opera Garnier Monte-Carlo
On the 27th of October, 2018, music enthusiasts gathered in the magnificent Salle Garnier in the Monte-Carlo Casino to enjoy an extraordinary "Blues Night" with Manu Lanvin, Johnny Gallagher and no one less than legend Buddy Guy. Never before have these three gifted masters shared a stage in Monaco, and thus the promise of a unique and rocking evening was in the cards. Originally planned to play in the Salle des Etoiles, the concert venue changed to a more intimate setting in the Opera Garnier Monte-Carlo.
Starting the night off at 20:30 was Manu Lanvin and the Devil Blues. An exceptional showman, guitarist, and singer, Manu resembles the scratchy raw voice of blues giants of the past. Since 2012, he has performed over 500 concerts in prestigious venues all over Europe and the US, including L'Olympia, Apollo Theatre, Montreal Jazz Festival and more. His album "Blues, Booze, and Rock 'n' Roll" (October 2016) was voted "Best Album of the Year" by Le Parisien, and "Best Performance of the year" by the magazine Rock & Folk. With six albums to his name, and hailed by no one other than super-producer Quincy Jones, Manu "the Devil" is taking a prominent position on the French blues-rock stage.
Representing the comeback of the genre in an explosive style, it didn't take much to get the crowd going. By the second song, the mid-age range audience barely could stay seated, as Manu skillfully strummed his sparkling blue guitar through the scales. Throughout the show, this sheer entertainer treated the willing crowd with captivating solos, call-and-repeat singing, rhythmic clapping, and by leaving the stage to walk into the audience - evidently to their utter delight. Songs performed included "Wild Wild West," "Hoochie Coochie Man," "Oh When the Saints," and surprisingly one delicate French song amidst these all-American blues. Whichever song he played, Manu was the embodiment of the music through his voice, craft, and movement.
Remarkably, the energetic trio ended their performance rather peculiar - or poetically depending on the eye of the beholder. As Manu thanked the audience, he walked off stage, leaving his guitar on the floor playing a high-pitched cord. Lights went on, the set was being broken down, and yet the shrill sound didn't stop until the technician pulled out the plug. Though not all in the audience enjoyed this unique departure, perhaps this was a poetic way to express that 'music continues on, even when the musicians have left the stage'.
After the short set-change, it was time for Johnny Gallagher and the powerful Boxtie Band to take the stage. With his twin brothers Pauric & James on either side on the piano and bass and Sean on the drums, they started off with a beautiful dreamy introduction. The instant Johnny touched the strings of his guitar, it was evident the audience was listening to a highly talented and skilled musician. Not only was one invited to drift away on the heart-touching solos in "The Loser" and "A Peace of Mind," but the audience was also electrified by "The Cowboy of the Deep Sea" as his wizardly fast fingers glided over his guitar.
Yet it is not only the skill on the guitar that has made this Irishman internationally recognized. Johnny's voice ranges from a tender whisper that touches deep into the soul, to a dynamic expressive voice that makes you want to jump off your chair. Though less busy with engaging the crowd as his predecessor on the stage, he gave the listener the opportunity to relax, enjoy and listen to the magic that was being formed in front of them. Although the band did get the full audience to sing an "Oh Shananana," to which Johnny ad-libbed with his guitar. "Good choir!", he commented after the jam session, which evidently was received with a roar of laughter by the amused audience.
One curious incident occurred during the show. Oddly enough, after another ravishing song that ended with a bang, a "background" music seemed to be playing. Unnoticeable during the song, but now clearly as the band stopped playing, the musicians confusingly looked around, signaling to the technicians, trying to locate where the music was coming from. But it kept on going. To a point, Johnny just started improvising. "If you can't beat them..." he mocked gently. Finally, the music stopped, and though it is still unclear where the music was coming from, the joke may have been on the synthesizer and its prerecorded beats function.
Speaking of the pianist: the talent unmistakably runs through the family. At multiple occasions, Pauric Gallagher was given the opportunity to show off his expertise in amazing solos. Though the sound could have been a little louder, a keen listener was able to enjoy the beauty of his talent.
But it is not only the individual talent which made the show such a success. The alchemy between the band members was palpable. On his website, Johhny states: "With this unit, we know where it's at. Myself, Pauric James and Sean have a force that doesn't appear out of nowhere. It's like an aging process that takes time to mature. We sometimes Rock and we sometimes Roll, but that's the magic at all the live shows. With James's punchy bottom lines and Sean's groovy swing, Pauric has the freedom to Boogie Woogie and lay down his melodies, giving Johnny the scope for improvisation. To jam it out... and it also gives the audience the power to express themselves. That's the ultimate connection, that's what it's all about".
Ending their set with one of their favorite songs, "Mr. George", Johnny Gallagher and the Boxtie Band had opened something in the audience, as one enthused member curiously demonstrated. No longer could the man contain his appreciation and walked up to Johnny during his gripping solo to shake his hand. Despite being completely into his solo, the guitarist gently and humbly reciprocates.
After a short champagne break (after all, this is Monaco), anticipation was rising to finally see the legend play. It is hard to find a guitarist who has not been influenced by the pioneering work of Buddy Guy. Often called the bridge between Blues and Rock 'n Roll, this 82-year old is still electrifying the stage and not ready to stop (even though some of his most renowned mentees like Eric Clapton are thinking of retirement). This could originate from one of the last words Muddy Waters said to this blues hero: when Buddy heard about Muddy's serious illness, Buddy called him to express his wish to visit him. But Muddy said: "Don't come out here, I'm doing all right. Just keep the damn blues alive!". "So as long as I'm here," Buddy says, "I'm going to do whatever I can to keep it [and the legacy of those before me] alive."
And so he did for the first time in Monaco, commencing with the riveting "Damn Right, I've Got the Blues." Right from the start, in his bright orange shiny shirt, Buddy got his guitar to sing sexy tunes that made the audience howl in agreement. Rocking his hips suggestively to "I Just Want To Make Love To You," it is evident that the man has lost nothing of his touch. From the elegant soft and tender playing that won everyone's heart, to entertaining the audience by demonstrating various ways to play the guitar: using a towel, drumsticks, or even his own shirt as he turns his guitar around and scratches it against his chest - of course all done with a cheeky smile on his face.
During the almost 2-hour running show, the music barely stopped. Showcasing legendary songs as "Boom Boom," "Chicago Girl," and "Fever," the band shared their unmistakable talents through their exquisite solos on piano, Rhodes, and guitar. The crowd was even treated to an entertaining live tuning session between Marty Sammon on keys and Buddy Guy. All the while, the music continued playing.
And then the gig got even more exciting. Buddy Guy stepped into the audience with his guitar and microphone, playing and singing as the crowd gathered around him to take a picture of this extraordinary moment of the show. For a little while, he sat down in the middle of the audience and relaxingly continues to pluck away on his guitar. But if that wasn't enough, once back on stage, the blues genius challenged the crowd to sing. "While you were sneaking out, someone else was sneaking in." Though demanding, the full audience went for it and created a beautiful sound, which Buddy Guy noticed. "Shit, I like that!", after which he gently excuses the audience for his word choice.
As the entertaining evening came to an end, Buddy, appreciative of his work, called Johnny Gallagher back on the stage. "I want you to get down and get funky, so people can smell it." And thus, the magical night ended, treating the audience not only to a live jam session between amazing artists, but also in experiencing the essence of the Blues.
For more information on upcoming events of these exceptional musicians, please visit www.buddyguy.net, www.manulanvin.com/calendrier/, and www.johnnygallagher.com/tour.