Live Review: Robert Jon and The Wreck, Academy 2, Manchester on 15-09-23

Written by: NICK ASHTON

Photos by: NICK ASHTON

I’ve been hearing good things about Robert Jon and The Wreck for some time and was disappointed to have missed them the last time that they made it over to the UK, so I jumped at the opportunity to review the band this time round. However, before the main event there was the prospect of Caitlin Krisko and The Broadcast, an artist who was completely new to me. Now if you are reading this review, chances are that you subscribe to the same rule as me: always turn up early for the support band. Believe me, those that did tonight were well rewarded as Caitin and her band were an absolute joy. Combining blues-rock with a hint of soul, Caitilin is a powerhouse vocalist who grabs your attention from the moment that that band hit the stage. The Broadcast, comprising Aaron Austin (guitar), Michael Davis (drums) and William Seymour (bass), are equally impressive and soon make their presence felt as they cruise through openers Half Asleep and Blue Heron.  Hailing from Asheville in North Carolina, the band are clearly relishing every moment of this trip round the UK and Europe, and are determined to make the most of every minute. After the upbeat one – two of the opening numbers, the next song Haunted By You takes a slower approach with a soulful vocal telling the story of lost love over some tasteful guitar licks before building to a heart-felt climax. After this the pace changes for Devil On Your Side which finds its way to your hips and leads to involuntary dancing, which for someone with two left feet is no mean feat. Latest single Operator is dedicated to all of the ladies in the audience who have been given the run around by a smooth-talking man, and has a similar upbeat, catchy refrain. Think funky, good time beats and the sort of chorus that refuses to leave your head. As the set approaches its end, we take a left turn into a lively cover of Zepplin’s Rock N Roll, in tribute to the British music that has inspired the band, before the final song of the night, Battle Cry, and a tasty guitar solo to close proceedings. Caitlin and the band are due to return to these shores in 2024, and my advice is to go and see them if you are in the mood for a good time.

The room starts to fill up and anticipation builds as we approach stage time for Robert Jon and The Wreck. It is obvious from the number of RJ&TW t-shirts on display in the crowd that the band has built up a loyal following in the UK, and it is easy to see why as soon as the band hit the stage and launch into Pain No More from current album Ride Into the Light. Showcasing the band’s sound to the full, with Robert Jon’s powerful and distinctive vocals up front and Henry James Schneekluth’s sweet guitar tone providing the melody. This is Southern rock with the emphasis on rock and just a hint of country to bring the heartache. We’re not talking cowboys and Stetsons – although Robert Jon does know how to rock a fedora – but music based in the traditions of those great Southern rock bands such as Skynyrd, Molly Hatchet and The Allman Brothers. Indeed, it is the latter that springs to mind on Do You Remember, which combines a honkytonk keyboard sound with a guitar line that recalls Jessica. It’s not just the crowd who are lapping this up either, as I turn round in the photo pit during Blame It On The Whiskey to find Caitlin Krisko next to me with a broad smile on her face and clearly loving every minute.

The title track of the Ride Into The Light album brings the pace down and features one of many excellent guitar solos this evening. Indeed, Henry’s guitar work is stunning throughout the whole show. He isn’t flashy and doesn’t pull faces: instead he concentrates on wringing out the best from his guitars in a way that both compliments and lifts the songs, often extending them beyond the constraints of the recorded versions. This alone is worth the price of admission and will certainly entice me back to a RJ&TW show in the future. And if you need more incentive, then I suggest that you take a listen to new single Don’t Look Down which combines the story telling of John Cougar Mellencamp with a singalong chorus and sublime slide guitar that is more contagious than that popular virus from 2020. If this had been released in the 80’s it would have grabbed the heartland audience and could have propelled the band to stadium status in the US. Yet there is more to RJ&TW than simple feel good, upbeat pop songs as exemplified by the slow building When I Die. This is a love song which reminds us that we are a long time dead, so find that special someone and make the most of your time together. As the song progresses it builds towards a truly epic guitar solo which simply stuns in its passion and intensity. Again, the solo serves the song, rather than acting as a vehicle for showing off, and leaves the audience awestruck.  This then segues into the slide guitar that introduces Don’t Let Me Go and a great passionate vocal with beautiful harmonies underpinned by the swirling keys of Jake Abernathie. Lyrically we are in the story telling heartland again, touching on the theme of a relationship that is breaking up whereas musically we are in slide guitar heaven. Jake then leads us into Glory Bound which is a slower number with a late night, whiskey-soaked vibe that builds towards an Allman Brothers-tinged guitar solo to finish.

Oh Miss Carolina is a crowd pleaser, getting perhaps the biggest reaction of the evening with the whole room joining in on the chorus and basking in the feel good slide guitar crescendo that brings the song to a rousing conclusion. All too soon Robert Jon announces that it is the last song of the evening. Looking at the time I’m a little surprised, as it’s almost 40 minutes before the set is due to end according to my information. Cold Night starts off as you would expect a set closer, with an upbeat tempo and a feel-good vibe. And then it keeps on going and going and going. James’ solo builds and builds, exchanging passages with Alex’s keys, and then soaring off ever upwards spiralling towards the ceiling in the way that all true great Southern rock songs reach their climax. Over 20 minutes later – and trust me it does not feel that long as you are held rapt in the moment – the song finally winds its way to the end. Looking at my notes as I write this there is just one word to describe what I have just witnessed: epic.

Finally the band leave the stage; but we know that it is just a tease as the house lights remain off. After taking a well-deserved breather they return for Shine A Light On Me Brother which just brings the whole crowd together in one joyous celebration of a memorable evening. Combining yet more slide guitar, honkytonk keys and more energy than an evangelical preacher whipping his congregation into a frenzy, this is the perfect way to close the set. If ever there was a song designed to make you feel good and head straight to the merch stall after the gig to pick up a new t-shirt its Shine A Light. Overall it’s safe to say that my first experience of Robert Jon and The Wreck was hugely enjoyable and one that I hope to repeat. If you are a fan of Southern rock, the American heartland and sublime guitar playing then you too should check these guys out on the remaining dates of their current UK tour.

Robert Jon and The Wreck

Caitlin Krisko and The Broadcast
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