The charismatic blues performer and former mixed martial artist KRIS BARRAS has faced bankruptcy, experienced a profoundly emotional loss, and engaged in combat in front of sizeable crowds. We suppose these are the qualifications for an artist who wants to perform the blues with unrestrained passion, uninhibited expression, and unrepressed commitment.
Throughout the past three years, BARRAS, a chest-thumping symbol of our time, has developed into a self-deliverer and sanctifier while also yelling indignantly about social injustices.
We saw the KRIS BARRAS BAND perform live at the iconic North London venue The Garage, on Saturday 25th February 2023. It was the last (celebratory) night of an immense tour for the band.
As one London fan told me, ‘Kris is one of the best blues guitarists in the world right now…’ But BARRAS is more than that: he’s transfigured into a motivated musical redeemer!
Kris is straightforth in action, yelling pain about ‘high hopes and empty roads’ on his electric blues-rock thunder-roar Hail Mary! It was a song that drove the heart of the 2018 album ‘The Divine and Dirty’ and now delivers a thumping statement of intent to the packed room.
It was his father, who gave the young man his first guitar, aged six, (he’d been playing his Dad’s guitar since five!) and Dad introduced him to the Rolling Stones, Deep Purple and especially, Gary Moore. At nine, Kris was playing with his father’s cover band, on stage.
‘This is what my Dad wanted me to do…’ he tells the crowd. ‘This whole band is a tribute to him.’
‘Dead Horses’ had a phenomenal gritter-lorry riff, a wise-hearted lyrical heart, plenty of ready-handed guitar, creationary vision, and a super-identifiable chorus. It is the embodiment of what the rock ‘n’ roll industry might describe as ‘gold-dust commodity.’
‘It’s no secret we have got a bit heavier as things have come along…’ shouts Kris. And it’s true, at The Garage the band cross the lines of blues-rock and into post grunge and even darker shades of alt-metal (think sludgy murky Soundgarden sliced through by Navarro-like (Jane’s Addiction) tears of guitar power.) Kris is now shaven, wiry, and athletical. In fact the entire band is in bouncy good health: Josiah J.Manning (guitar & keys) Billy Hammett (drums) and the ultra-limber limber Frazer Kerslake as Kelpie McKenzie’s replacement, on bass all twist and gyrate on stage.
‘Devil You Know‘ from recent album ‘Death Valley Paradise‘ (out now via Mascot Records) is a natural clapalong and at The Garage brought throbbing and groaning bass-notes, well-declared percussion, a persuasive sway… and yells of contentment from an excited audience.
Kris talked about being stuck in the nightmare of anxiety, privation, and claustrophobia experienced by us all during lockdown. And about the sense of foreboding he felt, not just for himself, but for the entire industry: ‘I nearly became an accountant…’ he told us. Then came the lament: Wake Me When It’s Over, which is a song that cleverly and sympathetically tackles the history we have shared (and the politician’s would like us to pretend to has now gone away.)
This song establishes Kris’s vocal power and range, as well as his obvious song-building skills. And although the piece towers above others in a compositional sense, the pinnacles of the amazing number reach across the venue to embrace us all. Kris never sings down to anyone… he sings along with his congregation!
Kris never sings down to anyone… he sings along with his congregation!Raw Ramp Music Magazine
‘My Parade’ also from ‘Death Valley Paradise‘ addresses the bent politics and hierarchical structures that aim to keep us down. The buzzy-building riff leads to a magnificent chorus that responds to the sense of disaffection we all stomach and trunks the rebelliousness into collectiveness and societal collaboration. If there was ever a theme for this generation, this is it!
‘Watching Over Me’ from The Divine and Dirty album is doubtless about his own Father (but can also be about divinity, why not?) and, in fact,is the only unambiguous blues song of the entire evening. The guitar slides like silk on an angel’s wing. The vocal is emotioned and meltingly true, and the rhythms — though pliant — encourage the vocals without becoming brash.
This song, and the artist himself, is about purity, understanding, and reconciliation. Sublime!
File alonsgide: Chicken Shack, King King
Words & Images: @neilmach 2023 ©