The Robin 2 in Bilston (just outside of Wolverhampton) is one of those legendary venues that seems to exist in a little time bubble all of its own. A 700 capacity venue, it feels rammed to the rafters even before the support act takes to the stage and the venue continues to fill until it starts to resemble a giant, sweltering sauna by the time the main act appears. That the venue is full, and that the air is charged with a sense of expectation, should come as no surprise for we are here to witness Walter Trout take to the stage on the back of his quite astounding ‘Battle Scars’ album. However, today is not just about Walter. As a wonderful treat, Walter has bought along the whole family and the opening act is the Trout Brothers, and the sense of love and community, both on stage and off, for this family trip is something to behold.
Introduced by Marie Trout, the Trout Brothers came together to make music, at least in part, to come to terms with their father’s ailing health. Whilst Walter languished in fear for his life, his sons set about connecting themselves to his music and his legacy and the results are astounding. So impressive is the band’s set that the usual, somewhat patronising, ‘for their age’ epitaph can be entirely dispensed with – the Trout brothers would be impressive at any age and their short set is charged with energy and excitement. Although rooted in the blues, the Trout brothers bring their own influences to the mix with the result that their set incorporates elements of blues, hard rock, grungy psychedelia and more. Songs like ‘American Dream’ shine, whilst ‘Lord have mercy’ (featuring a paint-stripping vocal performance from Andrew Elt) is a genuine show-stopper that has the entire venue charged with the power of the performance. The final track has a Hendrix-infused punch to it and both Mike and John Trout have clearly inherited their father’s prowess on guitar. The biggest surprise, however, comes from Dillon who, at the age of thirteen, drums like he fell out of the womb clutching a pair of sticks. In short, the Trout Brothers are a band who are supporting their father very much on their own merits and not as a result of their name and, should they choose to continue on this path, there is no question that they will make their own unique mark on the music world in the future.
Although Walter returned to touring, and to the UK, in 2015, it is still emotional to see the man on stage after so severe a health scare. Still marked by his experiences, Walter’s energy and humour are both in full evidence tonight and the show is a cathartic experience that sees Walter transcend the morbid detail of the ‘battle scars’ album, recounting his life-altering experiences in a manner that is life-affirming rather than self-pitying. Opening with a short set of Walter classics including an absolutely mind-blowing ‘Outta control’ (“when I play that song I feel like I’m 21, when I finish, I feel like I’m 121!” quips Walter having effectively reduced the venue to so much rubble) and a poignant tribute to B.B. King in the form of ‘Say goodbye to the blues’. These are wonderful, timeless songs – songs that will live on beyond Walter and his band in the hearts of every blues fan, and to hear them played with such energy brightens the spirit in a manner that is impossible to explain to those for whom music is not a driving passion – it’s an indefinable joy (and one that brings goose-bumps to the skin) to hear this man dig into his guitar with the same vitality that drives his young sons and the temperature in the venue easily shoots up a few more degrees.
At the heart of this tour is the epic ‘battle scars’ album (represented on the current ‘Alive in Amsterdam’ LP) and much of the album appears in the mid-section of the set (“if you came here feeling good, you won’t be soon!” warns Walter) and yet tracks like ‘almost gone’ and ‘haunted by the night’, despite their visceral detail, are set to some of the best music of Walter’s impressive career. Highlights from this portion of the set include two songs where son John joins the band for ‘tomorrow seems so far away’ and ‘Playing hideaway’, the latter being a full-blooded rock song with enough energy to power a small town. Equally powerful is a run through of that old classic ‘rock me baby’ complete with son Dillon on drums, and the power of the music brings audience and band together in a way that few artists can achieve.
Walter Trout has long been an artist who wears his heart on his sleeve and that is perhaps why his fan base felt his illness so keenly and greeted his return to action with such joy. An artist who has never been afraid to tell the truth, Walter’s experiences, as terrible as they were, have informed some of the greatest music of his career and to see him on stage, surrounded by his real family and by a band who are, in all but name, also his family, is simply joyous. I left the show (as did so many of the audience) feeling a simple optimism bought about purely by the energy with which Walter has embraced his new lease of life. I suspect that, for Walter, the best days still lie ahead as both he and his family embody a passion for music that is imparted to the audience throughout their live shows. I feel privileged to have been present for this wonderful performance and it confirmed my belief that Walter Trout remains one of the greatest blues guitarists alive today.
We’d like to gratefully acknowledge Mick Schofield who kindly shared these amazing shots of Walter Trout and band with us.