live at Toldkammeret, Helsingör, Denmark,
February 8, 2017.
Cool, calm and collected. This is Glenn Hughes as he enters the stage on a windy and snowy evening in Helsingör, Denmark, February 2017. The venue is less than ideal, with a very low stage and pillars obstructing the view. Still, the turnout is better than expected for a Wednesday night and the audience spans fans in their mid 20s to more grey haired ones in their 60s who remain seated in the adjoining cafeteria even as the show is in progress. Glenn seems to have raised his profile these past few years by being in the media eye.
The start of the show is the highlight, with Flow, Muscle & Blood, and Getting Tighter. The band is tight and heavy. Very heavy. Engborg is probably the hardest hitting drummer Hughes has played with (next to Chad Smith?) and the drum sound is crystal clear. His style is slightly unusual. Powerful as mentioned but not a basher per se. Plenty of creative fills and outros where he’s so focused on the delivery that he almost looks bewildered once the song has ended. This power is welcome but it also comes at a cost. In the past Glenn has often played with swinging drummers and his most popular work was built on light and shade, both in terms of vocals and playing. This is the heaviest Glenn Hughes show I’ve seen to date, but there’s also a lack of dynamics as the evening wears on. Glenn and Engborg almost bring enough power on their own, but then there’s also a Hammond player and 2(!) guitarists. The soundscape is living but not breathing.
Soren Andersen is obviously a great sidekick for Glenn in a professional capacity, but clarity in the playing is not his greatest strength. With Blackmore in the 70s you could hear every note picked and somehow he was able to cut through the mayhem with clean leads. With Soren, the wah wah pedal is constantly pressed down and few notes leave a deeper impression. Partly because his tone doesn’t cut through enough. Later in the show Glenn goes on to explain how he wanted a Jon Lord presence in his band and introduces Jay Boe. Jay’s playing is lively and fine but somewhat lost in the mix.
Glenn has surrounded himself with great, hungry talent on this tour, all focused in their delivery, mineral water by their feet. So, why is something still missing? Maybe because they’re not equals or simply because one is spoiled by his earlier collaborators and legendary past. While his band is musically in your face, Glenn is more subdued than normal given recent events and having a cold. This cold has no effect on his performance and even though the acrobatics are all but gone, You Keep on Moving is all the better for it. The bass intro is magical, with Glenn playing notes close to the bridge of his bass while adding just the right amount of stringbending to get that ambient effect. The crowd goes silent in respect of the intro and moment (Glenn introduced the song by talking about his mother).
Throughout the evening it becomes clear no song is too hard to sing for this 65-year-old. While other singers of his generation look like they’re about to have a heart attack any minute trying to do their old songs justice, Glenn clearly employs a different technique. Barely moving an inch, he focuses his stare into the crowd, adjusts his mouth accordingly and lets loose a falsetto, followed by soft improvisation, followed by a full on power voice. Just like that. He’s in total control and it’s cool to witness. It’s also one of the few times my focus is 100% on the stage. If this kind of dynamic was present more often in the show and band, the outcome would have been different. But I think what it comes down to in the end is the combination of songs and delivery. Glenn doesn’t have enough classics of his own to sustain the audience’s excitement fully throughout. Or he simply doesn’t play the classics he has in the way people first heard them. I also think this is partly why the crowd is receptive but not ecstatic. When he does talk to the crowd he connects though and does so by being down to earth and honest. No schtick nor open shirt necessary.
Hopefully he will be back to Scandinavia with a slightly more nuanced approach, in a venue where you can see the stage and where his new level of restraint is also reflected in the band’s delivery.