Stretch, The Borderline, London
January 28, 2012
Want to know the truth about Stretch? They’re a GREAT ‘live’ band!
Crowds packing the Borderline roared their approval and demanded encores the night the legendary group came back from the shades of rock history.
Elmer Gantry, their charismatic lead singer greeted the cheering hordes with wry humour as he said: “Welcome to our second gig in 35 years…we don’t like to rush things.” Maybe he said ‘five years’ but whatever the time lag, Stretch were revitalised and ready to rock.
In fact it was the blues rather than heavy rock that proved their speciality during an evening of mature, satisfying music. Elmer sang with cool but passionate intensity while lead guitarist Kirby Gregory played with the kind of attack you’d expect from some of rock’s best known guitar heroes. His solos and choruses complementing the vocals were full of tonal surprises and subtle effects. It makes you wonder why he hasn’t been up there with the Becks and Claptons these past few decades.
Whatever happened to Stretch in the past doesn’t matter now they are back, playing their hearts out and with a new album to boot. They delivered many songs from ‘Unfinished Business’ (Repertoire) including a succession of great R&B standards that went down a storm. Needless to say Elmer proclaimed ‘I Got My Mojo Working’ to wild acclaim. Indeed the entire group’s mojo was working overtime. On second lead guitar the mysteriously named Brat Lambshine together with Jim Scadding (bass) and Justin Hildreth (drums) worked their collective socks off.
They launched into down home rock’n’roll with a version of Johnny Winter’s ‘How Do You Feel It’ followed by ‘Live The Life I Love’ from ‘Unfinished Business’ that really is their first album in 35 years.
There were lots of jokes from Elmer between numbers and he aimed some friendly remarks at a party of fans who had come all the way from Germany clutching original LPs by Elmer Gantry’s Velvet Opera as well as Stretch albums. “Now if you are expecting me to climb up the curtains during the show like I did in the Sixties and Seventies, well when we did our sound check this afternoon, the Health & Safety people said ‘no’.”
The twin guitarists exuded some nifty phrases in unison before Elmer slowed down the tempo for a sensuous ‘I Just Want To Make Love To You,’ another track from the new album.
Kirby played slide guitar and Elmer brandished his harmonica as they headed into their funky and stomping hit single ‘Why Did You Do It?’ and the final ‘Mojo’ encore. It was such a great night was I was tempted to call them the dynamic Stretch band, until I realised that’s apparently an exercise package for ‘burning fat and adding muscle.’ Well maybe it’s not such a bad description. They were certainly burning hot and showing their muscle. They reminded us just how good those Seventies bands were – and still are.
Earlier the Borderline crowd was wowed by a striking solo performance from blues singer and guitarist Robin Bibi, who stomped his foot to produce a big bass drum sound and sang like a dude from the Deep South. So watch out for the Robin Bibi Band on tour in the South (from Broadstairs to Swanage) during February and March 2012.