Robert Jon & The Wreck live at Manchester 02 Academy, 15th September

From the moment I heard Robert Jon’s gravely vocal on the opening number, I knew that this was going to be one of those nights where you feel like you’ve stumbled upon musical gold.
Photo by Mark Powell
Words: Helen May / Photos : Mark Powell
Robert Jon and the Wreck sailed into Manchester’s Academy with a country blues rock power that blew the roof off and left the crowd weak and wanting more.
Being a newcomer to all that is Robert Jon and the Wreck, I came to the gig with an open mind and heart. Tastes and opinions can vary but many of my friends had been effusing about their worth and I wanted to decide how good they were for myself. Before they came on stage though, we were treated to a set from Caitlin Krisko and the Broadcast who sent out a message that powerful vocals, vulnerability, and the right kind of songs make for an unforgettable show.

Caitlin Krisko and the Broadcast

As soon as Caitlin stepped onto the stage as the band played their opening number, I was interested – such a beautiful lady but did she have the pipes to be supporting the gravelly-toned power vocal that is Robert Jon and the Wreck? Before one bar of vocal had ended, we had our answer. This girl can sing. And it’s effortless.
After powering through ‘Half Asleep’ and amazing the audience with ‘Blue Heron’, she stilled the mood and sauntered into ‘Haunted by you’ which for me was the stand-out song of the set – tenderness and power and pain all wrapped up – Caitlin was seriously emoting. It left me thinking ‘who is that person she is singing about’ and ‘God, I’ve felt like that’. She clearly meant it. She allowed herself to be vulnerable and the pain she was feeling was clear on her face as she fought back tears – singing it out to try and move on from a bitter experience, I guessed. Some of the vocal trills reminded me of Joe Cocker or Aretha Franklin – easy stuff for Caitlin who is clearly comfortable bearing her soul on stage.
A good crowd had assembled at Manchester Academy 02 for her band and were rapturous in their praise for the opening act whose blend of blues, rock and soul is picking up followers fast. Caitlin’s songs showcase her smoky vocal and powerful range. She is one of the best female blues singers, I’ve heard. The band was tight and she was utterly captivating. Aaron Austin’s Gold Top had an amazing tone on everything he did, with William Seymour (bass) and Michael W Davies (drums) providing a fantastically accomplished rhythm section that just worked.
Caitlin’s moves saw her entice the audience into her world as she stretched her arms out like a songbird that forced people to lean into her words.
The band cruised through ‘Devil On Your Side’ and ‘Don’t Waste It’ before delivering the soulful and funky ‘Operator’. Caitlin brought her sass, showing her fun side and then we heard the unmistakable drum intro to Led Zeppelin’s ‘Rock and Roll’ which was blistering and fired up the crowd, clearly enjoying their Friday night.
The band ended their set with ‘Battle Cry’ – stomping drumbeats had the crowd bouncing, merrily. Caitlin and her talented line up had clearly won hearts and extra fans. The crowd had developed a strong affection for Caitlin who’s impossible not to like.
I think Caitlin will be broadcasting some brilliant songs in the future to avid listeners.

Robert Jon & The Wreck

From the moment I heard Robert Jon’s gravely vocal on the opening number, I knew that this was going to be one of those nights where you feel like you’ve stumbled upon musical gold.
Robert Jon and his band deliver country rock blues with a soul that touches the heart. Robert Jon as a frontman is impeccable, driving, with the ability to be tender as well as masterly being able to rip it up and get the crowd riding hell for leather on a guitar-infused e train. 
The band opened with ‘Pain no more’ with meaty, nasty distorted guitar and thumping drumbeats. They were in Manchester on a mission to conquer. I turned to see that the Academy had filled up with converts who were already tapping their feet and nodding their heads, agreeing with Robert Jon’s lyric ‘I ain’t a stranger to pain’. Nor me, brother!
The North Carolina band went into their second song ‘Do you remember’. The opening harmony guitar riffs are reminiscent of the wonderful ‘Thin Lizzy’ – add to that bouncing melodic country grooves and a sweeping Hammond organ and you’ve got a sure fire hit. Henry James’ guitar playing was effortless and Jake Abernathie was soon becoming one of my favourite keys players in the whole world. Jake was flicking his hair back and punching those black and whites like he was on the greatest trip of his life. It was like driving in a black Mustang down an American highway and everyone wanted to be his passenger.
The band ended the song to rapturous applause and Robert Jon telling people about whiskey – as you’d expect from any country blues rock band, alcohol is going to feature heavily at some point. He announced: ‘This is a song about the issues you think of when you drink whiskey… and makes you want to drink it all night’. It was a neat segue into ‘Blame it on Whiskey’. Their harmonies nodded to legendary giants The Eagles. Catchy lyrics and honkytonk piano poured over the audience who were enamoured, looking knowingly at other fans in the audience having the best time of their lives. Henry James fired off another solo as Andrew Espantman’s drums and Warren Murrel’s bass pulsed throughout.
‘Tired of Drinking Alone’ came next and saw people singing their absolute hearts out. Skilled slide guitar by Henry James echoed, for me, moments of Derek Trucks. Beautiful piano danced under Robert Jon’s crispy whiskey-smooth vocals. A brief pause and Robert Jon announced ‘Ride into the light’ – the title track from their latest album, which, I understand, the undeniable master of the blues Joe Bonamassa had a hand in producing two of the tracks for. A thumping drum pattern starts again and ‘Don’t Look Down’ begins. The night was moving at a significant pace now and the electricity in the venue was palpable – people punched the air as bold vocals by Robert Jon stoked the flames. Again, superb guitar from Henry James, steady beats by Andrew Espantman and a cheeky flute-sound on keys by the now infectious Jake Abernathie whose lively stage presence could only be matched by the loudness of the 70s-styled shirt he had festooned.
The track ‘When I die’ then flooded the room. The song – instantly dark and brooding. It seemed like a confession to God. The roof had lifted and shafts of imaginary light beamed down on a near full capacity Manchester Academy 2. Henry James was showing just how eclectic a guitar player he really is. This time his guitar solo echoed Jimi Hendrix – nasty Purple Haze vibes screamed out as Henry James looked out helplessly to the audience – as if, he too, had been weakened by the power of his own outstanding playing. A ridiculously good drum solo was delivered by Andrew Espantman before they cruised into ‘Don’t let me go’ – coloured with crunchy country rock guitar, with bass man Warren Murrel solid throughout.
The band then headed into ‘Glory Bound’ – bringing the temperature down for a crowd that needed some cooling. It was time to see a softer side to Robert Jon, proving his vocal could adapt from full on face melting stuff to delicate vocal kisses. ‘Oh, Miss Carolina’ followed and it was no surprise to see people wearing ‘Blackberry Smoke’ T-shirts in the crowd. Oh Miss Carolina definitely sits in the same country rock camp.
Robert Jon warned his disciples there were only a couple of songs to go before launching into what became the number of the night – epic isn’t even a big enough word to describe what was 20 minutes of guitar riffing, bass pumping, drum thumping, keys tapping, vocal trilling – it was a recipe that couldn’t have had more ingredients. There is stepping it up and stepping beyond and they went over and above to tear up the crowd, giving them something they could only get from a live experience. It was nothing short of amazing and the crowd paid them with their affection as they brought the night to an unforgettable climax. For me, despite clearly impressive power country-rock jamming out, I would have preferred an extra song in place of additional guitar triplets, but there was no denying the Robert Jon fans were dining out with an insatiable appetite for all the band had to offer.
The band made their farewells and left the stage but the now hooked crowd couldn’t let them go and chanted and stamped and screamed and whooped until they returned for just one more. ‘Shine A Light On Me Brother’ was the encore before they left Manchester for the next part of their tour.
With the clear musical ability of all the band members, there was never any danger they’d hit a choppy wave and end up in pieces on the shore. Smooth sailing from Robert Jon and the Wreck.
Robert Jon Burrison – Guitar, Lead vocals
Andrew Espantman – Drums, Vocals
Henry James – Lead Guitar, Vocals
Warren Murrel – Bass
Jake Abernathie – Keys
Set list
Pain No More
Do You Remember  
Blame It On Whiskey  
Tired Of Drinking Alone  
Ride into the light  
Don’t Look Down  
When I Die  
Don’t Let Me Go  
Glory Bound
Oh Miss Carolina  
Cold Night  
Shine A Light On Me Brother
Tour dates still remain. Ticket link is HERE

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