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Davy Knowles at Higher Ground

Doug Collette By

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Davy Knowles
Showcase Lounge, Higher Ground
South Burlington, Vermont
August 19, 2016

Davy Knowles took more than a few chances during his two-hour set at Higher Ground August 19th, but to his great credit, he made them all pay. Granted the audience was on his side, but their lust to cheer him on (right from the opening notes) was no greater than the precocious guitarist's determination to meet their expectations.

In fact, it's quite likely he exceeded their hunger for guitar heroics (and the apparent thirst of those long-in-the- tooth steadily imbibing throughout the night). Knowles charged fast and hard from the very start, within a quarter hour into the show earning a full-throated roar from the audience the likes of which shook the small room at the venue (and prompting a CD sale at the merch table before the first number was done).

At this point, the young guitarist and his band were playing with an intensity most musicians don't (or simply can't) attain til the end of a performance, but it's a tribute to the leader's savvy that, even without pre-planning a setlist (as he is wont to do, preferring to gauge the room first), the quartet confidently navigated an extremely well-paced set. The introduction of a slower, bluesy number at roughly the one hour mark illustrated the relative musical intensity: the subdued atmosphere was no less striking than when Knowles and his bandmates utilized the volatile combination of high-volume and rapid pace. And it should be noted keyboardist/vocalist Andrew Toombs, bassist/vocalist Jeremiah Hunton and, especially drummer Jeremy Cunningham all relished the pleasure of playing as hard as their leader.

In line with this anguished semi-balladry tugged at the heart, the tortured wail of Davy Knowles' guitar during this piece called to mind the late great Paul Kossoff of Free, one of the unsung members of British guitar royalty. He like Knowles had followed in the footsteps of Eric Clapton, the archetypal guitar hero to whom Davy paid tribute with "Outside Woman Blues: " this number elicited no discernible response from the attendees, yet it's notable as a number through which 'Slowhand' led the iconic power trio Cream during the Disraeli Gears (Atco, 1967).

But this night in Vermont, this selection served as yet another reminder of Davy Knowles and company's deft handling of an irresistible riff. Soon after, the frontman bravely traded his 1966 Fender for a Paul Reed Smith to play three acoustic numbers, a courageous move that, despite his succinct and soulful approach, lost the attention of the crowd to some degree: the talking on the floor and at the bar rose noticeably in volume,

Which may be exactly why, after spoken tribute to one his childhood heroes, Rory Gallagher, Knowles threw himself wholeheartedly into "As the Crow Flies," a staple of the late, great Irish bluesman's repertoire. In so doing, altogether feverishly by the time he was done, Knowles had the audience's attention again, all the better timing to welcome his band back to the stage and proceed to burn through another forty-five minutes of rough-and-tumble electric blues-rock, at the outset continuing to use the slide with which he had proved so adept during the final tune he played by himself.

Astute changes of pace, via slow blues the likes of which the quartet had not offered all evening, as well as moody title-track from his forthcoming album Three Miles From Avalon (Independent, 2016), Knowles and company struck an impact here late in the evening as resounding as that which he had generated early on. In fact, they made the bracing encore of "Dear Mr. Fantasy" sounded like it was tailor made for Knowles' approach, directly derived from his blues roots. Moreover, the clamorous recognition for (one of) Traffic's greatest songs from those remaining in the room reaffirmed the guitarist's connection to them and, at the same time, paralleled Davey Knowles' repeated, forthright declarations of gratitude for the support of those present; he was no less earnest at this point than his earnest expression of thanks at the outset of the performance to roughly twice as many then present.

In fact, Davy Knowles' statement of being 'honored' with this adulation might well encapsulate the mutual affection in play at this his latest of his appearances in the Green Mountains over the years: (he laughingly referenced a free show in the Queen city's Battery Park in 2008 and had, in fact, played Higher Ground in January of 2016). That same warmth permeated the repartee as the man greeted his fans inside after the show, not to mentionthe light of the full moon above the South Burlington club this late summer night .

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