“London, my name’s Chris Shiflett. Nice to meet you,” says the man on stage within arms length of the front row.
The Foo Fighters lead guitarist may be in a band that played to almost 160,000 people over two consecutive shows at London Stadium last summer. But he’s clearly just as comfortable playing to 320 who can see the stitching of his denim shirt or the pattern in his red bandana without having to rely on giant screens. After all he’s no stranger to playing clubs, as he reminds a sold-out Omeara before playing Goodnight Little Rock, a song about just that.
And it turns out that, even though some 25 years have passed since those early days with No Need For A Name, he’s not forgotten how to get up close and very personal. Quite content to let colleagues Grohl and Hawkins pull focus during the day job, Shiflett relishes the chance to connect directly with an audience who’ve come out to see only him. He gets a real kick out of ignoring Twitter advice to avoid the subjects of Brexit and Arsenal, gleefully asking for live score updates throughout the show. He mock-admonishes the “jaded” London audience after they don’t scream loudly enough before the encore.
He shakes up the setlist because he feels like it. He admits to practising pronouncing support act Roisin O’Hagan’s name backstage after mangling it previously. And he happily throws his 15-year-old son under the bus for dumping his first girlfriend (the daughter of two doctors) by text, without even a hint of heartbreak.
The story (moral: don’t get attached to your son’s first girlfriend) introduces a chiming Welcome To Your First Heartache, one of several tracks teased from forthcoming album Hard Lessons. Once again produced by Dave Cobb (the go-to producer for country musicians with taste), the LP seems to have added elements of ‘70s Southern rock (think Eagles, James Gang, Skynyrd) to its predecessor’s classic Nashville sound. That could be down to a live setup that favours Fender Telecasters (and a Gibson Les Paul) over banjos, lapsteels, and dobros, but even structurally and melodically the new songs sound more direct (and ballsy) than anything on 2017’s West Coast Town.
The flag-waving This Ol’ World takes on the Trump era with a huge audience-pleasing refrain (“I hope you’re doing alright”) and big ol’ rock drumming alongside twangy guitar soloing. A triumphant Liar’s Word (preempted with an a capella take on its huge chorus “Ooh mama, have you heard? I’m about as good as a liar’s word”) and Fool’s Gold (with plenty of “hey hey hey”s) are easily the catchiest things the sometime podcaster’s ever written.
And the pistol whipping The Hardest Lessons even morphs into a big instrumental jam (think Freebird with self-restraint) that highlights not just the frontman’s slide guitar skills, but the prowess of drummer Matt Star, bassist Mark “Muddy” Dutton, and guitarist Brian Whelan.
With their shared credits including big names like Dwight Yoakum, Chris Robinson, and Christopher Cross, the musicians add oomph and (obviously) volume to songs Shiflett performed solo on an acoustic guitar during his previous London show.
This Sticks & Stones will break your bones, “West coast psychedelic shit” Blow Out The Candles now sways like a Heartbreakers classic, I’m Still Drunk is suitably loose (but never sloppy), and show stopping set closer West Coast Town is way more than one last chance for the two guitarists to trade sleazy guitar licks.
Like every song played tonight, it shows just how much fun they’re all having. Everyone, not just Shiflett, seems not just relaxed but thrilled to be here. Just listen to their tequila-and-peyote-in-the-Mojave Desert makeover of Rolling Stones’ rock ‘n rollin’ rarity Star Star. The last track on 1973’s Goats Head Soup isn’t exactly Start Me Up, but the four men on Omeara’s stage lay it all out with a joy that’s as pure as it is contagious.
Review of Chris Shiflett at Omeara on 1st April 2019 by Nils van der Linden. Photos by Kalpesh Patel.