Livestream performances can be a bit of a mixed blessing. For some the lack of the crowd – and the smell and heat of the crowd – diminishes the performance to the point of merely listening to a live album. Some artists are clearly affected by the lack of atmosphere. The Damn Truth do not fit that category! These guys are in an empty church in Montreal, with camera crews and not much else besides, but they play their hearts out and generally look and feel as though they’ve got a couple of thousand happy, sweaty bodies right in front of them! Yes it’s kind of a hometown gig but I think that makes it even more special.
For those of you unfamiliar with the band, they are a foursome playing some seriously old-school classic rock. Tom Shemer is the guitar genius; PY Letellier (pronounced pee-why) is yer iconic loping bass player; Dave Traina is the man on the sticks; and Lee-La Baum on lead vocals and guitar. To just label her as “lead vocalist” is like saying Gary Lineker was a footballer who scored a few goals! Lee-La is a powerhouse front-person, a melding of Janis Joplin, Grace Slick, Blues Pills’ Elin Larsson, Heart’s Anne Wilson and the Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard in turn. This live performance shows her always in command – tender, lambasting, howling, a woman with a truly great voice! The other three guys might not get as much praise, but they can all play a bit!
The livestream is designed to showcase their new album Now Or Nowhere that came out in early May, and the first two thirds of the show runs through the album in its entirety. You can see the review (dated 28 April) here.
Suffice to say, it’s Damn Good! It’s their third album, marking a progression from their two earlier, more blues-oriented works, this one being a really strong set of classic hard rock with lots of bluesy, melodic edges, lots of variety in pace, mood and style.
The show kicks off in style with This Is Who We Are Now, a real rabble-rouser that got a lot of air-play and no wonder – it’s a real anthemic scene setter, lots of pace, massive chords, thumping bass. Like I said, these guys aren’t bothered about a lack of audience, they’re really belting it out! Lee-La basically setting out her vocal stall, her voice soaring around the church rafters, pretty much the perfect opening track!
Next up, as with the album, is Tomorrow. With the combination of great riffs, superb melodic vocals, massive sing-along chorus, it’s just good-time rock’n’roll at its very best, very redolent of Bryan Adams – must be a Canadian thing!
Only Love features some lovely guitar work and wonderful harmonies – it’s again very reminscient of Bryan Adams, particularly his duet with Sporty Spice (which I happen to like very much!). It’s fantastically, hugely radio-friendly, and the live version is beefier but still a timeless, feelgood powerpop song. Lonely then is a fantastic display of Lee-La’s vocal skills, think Alabama Shakes but with major ballsiness! The band jam around this a little but it still features what I can only describe as a MASSIVE HOWL from this incredible woman – Grace Slick and Janis Joplin combined!
Everything Fades changes the mood a little, it’s just a lovely, lovely ballad. Clean, powerful, harmonies that CSNY, The Airplane and Starship would be proud of. Altogether classy, I’m in dreamland! Next track is a fired-up version of Fire In The Blood, and the title perfectly captures a stunning vocal performance from Lee-La – heart, soul and lungpower are all there in the best tradition of Janis Joplin, I’m worn out by the end of the song! She sings so, so powerfully, sort of husky but so smooth at the same time. Live, this track is more full-on rocky, great interplay between guitar and bass, short pause then a whopper of a solo! Why I’ve never heard of these guys before, why they’re not up there with the gods of rock, amazes me!
Look Innocent features another slower, seething slab of blues-rock, drenched in ’60s vibes.
God, those vocals! They’re right up there with the best of Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, who is herself world-class in these soulful blues. Lee-La is so full-on in her delivery, strong, strong emotion in her voice and yet completely in control, not strained, she is utterly compelling on this track.
But – this is a really tight-knit, together band, as a foursome they work so well off each other, so Lee-La’s heroics are perfectly counter-balanced by Tom’s soaring, swooping solo and PY and Dave’s absolutely powerhouse rhythm. They simply look like four guys having a really great time playing together!
Full On You takes us back into stadium rock territory, very like Heart, another whopper of a riff followed by some wonderful guitar work – Tom Shemer is a damn fine player!
Shot ‘Em builds softly, gently at first, soaring vocals again, with a burst of amazing fretwork from Tom and some lovely, looping basslines from PY. The spirit of Grace Slick in her absolute pomp is brought alive by Lee-La’s soaring vocals, great lyrics. Live, the track just keeps building and building with some great jamming thrown in. It’s what Rock’n’Roll is all about and I cant stop smiling, a bit dodgy when you’re sat at home watching!
This is the new album’s closer, a ‘show finale’, anthemic sort of number, I’m and they curious as to how they can follow on from this, but they do manage it, very classily, by doing a sort of blues medley from their debut album Dear In The Headlights, and some choice selections from the second album Devilish Folk. You can hear the development of their own sound-style through the three albums, the first being more “straight-ish blues rock”.
So we get Pirates and Politicians followed by Get On You from Devilish Folk, both very up-tempo rocky numbers, more great riffing, raunchy guitar-duelling, Lee-La belting it out in much the same way as Blues Pills’ Elin Larsson, before the blues medley of Too Late, Broken Blues and Kinda Awkward.
Devilish Folk is then a really powerful, heavyweight song that again smacks of Grace Slick at her best, sharp environmental lyrics with another sing-along chorus and harmonies to die for, and mesmeric guitar playing. A simple but ear-worming chord, it builds…and builds…and builds! It feels like another “finale” song, and it is the closer from the album of the same name, but we still have time for one more, a superb version of Heart Is Cold, with another absolutely whopping riff and humungous bridge section. Briefly reminds me of Elkie Brooks and Vinegar Joe (showing my age here – but what a band they were!), this one feels very ’70s, and it feels so Good!
The Damn Truth are a superb, distinctly old-school band, and some might call it retro-rock – but what the heck it’s wonderful!. Lots of ’60s blues, massive anthems, 70’s beefiness, ’80s power melodies, and all four of them individually and collectively being at the top of their game. I foresee great things for them! The Damn Truth will be touring the UK next February and I’m going to make Damn Sure I get to see them (huh, huh!) – “Live live” will really be something!
The Damn Truth’s new album Now or Nowhere was released by Spectra Musique/Sony Music in May