This gig should be in black and white….and slightly scratchy around the edges. Even before the Wiyos play a note you are transported back to a pre-war movie-hall. This is the look and sound of Dylan’s Theme Time brought up to date, no wonder they appealed to his Bobness enough to accompany him on tour. Indeed, they would probably make his ideal backing band in heaven should he ever need them.
Straight in with washboard to the fore and suddenly the ghost of the Three Stooges is playing pranks and a lead singer straight out of a prohibition gangster movie via Bruce’s New Jersey is spinning tales and spells. Brilliantly arranged and syncopated they wear their busker hearts on their sleeves and pay homage to a lost era of brilliant musicianship and often neglected songwriting. How many would have honestly heard of the Washboard Rhythm Kings before the gig. A first set included many highlights including a fine rendition of Charlie Poole’s ‘Milwaukee Blues’ and a song I think called ‘Crapshooter Blues’ which outdid Tom Waits for funereal bliss….closer to theatre than simple singing..a stunner. Ensemble playing especially the slide and steel guitar was fabulous throughout. Without missing a beat there was plenty of visual slapstick a la Mack Sennet to keep the eyes and ears involved….and even Dereck Guyler ( ask your mum and dad) couldn’t have kept up with these washboard kings!
After a brilliant first set they had a short break and then took up the reins at an even greater pace and many were open mouthed at the sheer musicianship on offer. This was probably one of the tightest outfits ever to play the Maze in recent years and much appreciated by the sell-out crowd. Before I had to leave early (the gig went on and on) I caught a fine rendition of Bessie Smith’s ‘Nobody knows you when you’re down and out’ and a quick lesson on how to play the Piedmont Blues properly…
Apparently they keen to return although next time the Maze may not be big enough. Catch them before they hit the big stages.
Finally a mention in dispatches for the groovy local boys Hi and Lo who not only proved entertaining and no slouches as musicians and songwriters but also could prove to be the first Americana Reeves and Mortimer such was their comic timing. Hidden behind the droll humour is a deadly sincere take on Americana that can only gain fans. From the Leicester Gaumont to The Last Picture Show this night had it all!