Albert Lee finger-picking a guitar fret-board is what fibre optics is to broadband: the speed and clarity of his playing last night at the Exmouth Pavilions was superfast, and sensational.
Playing with long-time English band Hogan’s Heroes, Lee’s Country rock riffs prompted a rather genteel and sporadically geriatric crowd to a standing ovation by the end, even if there was little whopping and hollering during the performance, or indeed much movement at all amongst many rigid watchers. As we all left buzzed by Lee and the band's encore, Exmouth Pavilion’s taped default tea-dance music was as anathema as it was apt.
Playing much from their latest album Frettening Behaviour as well as a selection from a distinguished playing career – a significant sampling from Buddy Holly, and the Everly Brothers with whom he played – the ballads were often sweet and pretty, but it was the rockabilly and Country rock numbers with Lee’s lightening playing that truly delighted.
Hogan’s Heroes as a band of expert musicians played their part, Peter Baron on drums providing self-penned songs and vocals, Gerry Hogan on pedal steel solidly supporting, and Gavin Povey on keyboards also contributing his own material as well as playing some stonking piano riffs.
The set began with what is also the first track on their latest album, Green Day’s Good Riddance [Time of Your Life] and it is a likeable cover. The album is in many ways just that: likeable. It is only in such a live performance that much of that album’s ordinariness gets energised by the dynamics of the volume and rawer immediacy of the playing, but also, and obviously, it is Lee’s guitar breaks that galvanise. He is also an effective vocalist live, a quality somewhat sanitised on record.
The two-part set ended on Country Boy and up to this point it seemed implausible that Lee could play any faster or finer riffs, but this career stand-out hit took his guitar work to yet another level [version here to get a taste of that pace]. For an encore he and the band played two songs, an affectionate cover of Glen Campbell’s emotive swan song A Better Place, and another blistering number in Lee’s other [of many] famous songs Tear It Up, and you can see a great version here.
When considering the depth and breadth of Lee’s playing and performing career – with s many of the greatest, and recognised by these as a greatest himself – it is extraordinary that he will play a gig like Exmouth, and extraordinary to have attended.