Posted by John Hepworth.
Reviewed on 1st September 2004.
Live at Grove Inn on Saturday, 28th August 2004
It is unaccountable that Crosscut Saw don't seem to have a growing audience. The music room at the Grove is no barn with its licensed capacity of 80, yet going there to see them one can feel concern whether there'll be enough listeners to generate decent door money let alone atmosphere. Atmosphere though is guaranteed by the sound, and just one of a very positive mix of reasons for this is the band's leader, Alex Eden, whose guitar has won non-blues-fans over in seconds and gets devotees of electric urban blues claiming year after year that he's by far the best player in Leeds's catchment area : and harmonica player too if people cared to notice. With Rob Simpson's rhythm/second lead these two are the originals in the line-up; and ten years has gone into a repertoire largely their own fine material, but with the work of Buddy Guy and Magic Sam Maghett at its core.
So let's say Saturday was their fiftieth appearance at The Grove. It may be more, but what matters is there's a nice attendance tonight and they know it's going to be good. Shortly after the launch last year of the long-awaited debut album In Debt?You Bet! (File Under Noise Recordings) commitments in Australia took away Richard Ferdinando, founder member, outstanding on drums, and co-writer of much material. By now drummer Mark Olds has thoroughly absorbed the contents of the CD as well as working his own very fitting character into the performances.
Earlier this year bass guitar became a vacant post, so new on bass is a player called Tony who is having to get much of his induction on the hoof, and one result is that Rob Simpson is sometimes playing a part and a half in the early portion of songs. Well, the audience seemed unanimous that if giving Rob extra work pulls the quality out of him we saw here, why not give him a few more challenges? As the band went into Magic Sam's 'All your Love' and the bass riff passed from Rob's instrument to Tony's, Alex on vocals and lead took up the harmonica and left Rob in capable command of two guitar parts. If it had been done as a flashy gimmick it would have put me in mind of The Hoax in their heyday, but it came over simply as a valid variation which had listeners floating in a state of synchronised neck-jive.
It's a very satisfying thing to see a band experimenting successfully with its own established stuff whatever the reason, and it's meat and drink to musicians of this skill, likely to improvise on any occasion without losing the effect they've put in by previous developments. Best known in this capacity is their working of Buddy Guy's 'Smell a Rat', often chosen (as tonight) to close the first set. One commentator seriously expressed the view that it's worthy of a hearing by Mr Guy himself. Reminiscence speaks of a version running to 22 minutes, quite unknown to me, but I'm confident that if it crossed over into another genre it wouldn't have been towards prog rock but in the direction of something almost touching symphonic.
There's yet another version on the album, along with several of the songs that kept the Grove audience in place to the end of the show. Even the fierce 'Someday Baby', which has the reputation of being an unwelcoming gatekeeper as track 1, went down well early with the night's crowd. Crosscut Saw are a spellbinding act, and like The Who always have something extra for the live performance: gig dates and stockists of the album are on the admirably economical website...