Gone are the leather jacket and checked lumberjack shirt. When Dan Patlansky steps out onto the Royal Festival Hall stage it’s in waistcoat and suit jacket.
“As soon as I put on these clothes, I feel like I’m about to to go to work. It changes your headspace a little,” he tells me later. “And also with all these tattoos popping up everywhere,” he gestures towards the intricate inking on his neck, “I love the contrast of wearing something suave.”
A less visual, but certainly more important, change is the interplay with his band. For his previous visit to the UK in May, the South African recruited three crack German musicians. But, despite their impeccable performance of Patlansky’s repertoire, the trio and the singer-guitarist hadn’t yet formed the sixth sense that only comes with performing together.
“Because there’s a lot of improvised stuff, it’s really important to know the guys around you,” elaborates Patlansky. “It’s also important for them to know what I want and not just guess, and the more you play together, the more that naturally happens.”
Whatever the reason, whether it’s that connection, the new wardrobe, or something else entirely, there’s no denying how good the songs sound tonight. Abuse-of-power diatribe Sonova Faith opens the set with a chunky riff and lyrics as piercing as its guitar solo. The freewheeling Stop The Messin’ shows off Patlansky’s uncanny ability to slip giant radio-ready pop hooks into a classic blues rocker, while his nuanced six-string interplay with Tom Gatza’s keyboards underlines the increased familiarity between the players.
What follows is one of his darker songs, the gritty Heartbeat. Told from the viewpoint of a homeless man begging on a street corner, it makes full use of Patlansky’s vocal range, rumbling through the brooding verses before roaring into the stomping choruses.
A literal gut punch, it perfectly sets the stage for Dog Day, the night’s only song not on 2016’s Introvertigo album. The lead single from his upcoming Perfection Kills LP, due on 2 February, it highlights the insignificance of first-world problems over an aggressive, no-nonsense riff. That lyrical and musical crunch is perfectly reinforced by drummer Felix Dehmel, who switches his playing from “sensitive” to “Bonham”.
It’s back to “sensitive” for the slow blues of Still Wanna Be Your Man. Written for his wife, the tender mid-tempo love song is about balancing marriage with a life on the road. Unsurprisingly then, it’s performed with real feeling, the emotion building throughout the sweeping guitar solo that glides between quietly intimate and searing intensity.
That intensity, and effortless shape-shifting, carries through into Patlansky’s traditional set closer, the improvised jam (nominally called My Chana). A final reminder of how the bond with his European touring band has grown, the high-energy instrumental also allows the guitarist to show off the flashiest side of his playing.
Using reverb and a technique refined over the years, the guitarist holds his Fender Stratocaster out in front of him, resting its base on his chest, while using his other hand to pick out notes on the fretboard. The results are equal parts showmanship and musical brilliance, style and substance.