It’s always nice to see support bands being given appreciative applause, and a decent sized, good-natured crowd at the Greystones gave it up for both Tessio and Zac and The New Men on a warm, drizzly evening in Sheffield. Tessio are an acoustic guitar duo from Derry, their first time “across the water” but any early nerves were soon settled by their reception.
I don’t know what’s in the water in South Wales, but Zac and colleagues are the latest in a proud line of quality rock bands from that area, this is a foursome hailing from Swansea, an energetic young band producing fresh and modern heavy blues rock but still happy to share their influences, doing a great reworking of Led Zep’s Immigrant Song. The mix wasn’t completely kind to them (’twas ever thus for support bands) but they got properly stuck in – to the delight of a sizeable Welsh following who had trekked cross country from the previous night’s Steelhouse Festival. They’ve recently released a full-length album Reinvent Me, and the title track from that selection was a particular heavy rock highlight. This is a name to take note of!
And so to the main course!….the introductory “lead-in” tape was Jefferson Airplane’s White Rabbit, totally apt given the astonishingly Grace Slick-like vocal tornado that is Lee-La Baum, already giving her all as she strolls onto the stage, singing along to that all-time classic!
The Damn Truth hail from Montreal, they are a foursome playing some great quality classic rock that’s just timeless. 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; with Lee-La on lead vocals and guitar. To 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 and Grace Slick with a touch of Blues Pills’ Elin Larsson. This live performance underlined what a consummate performer she is – in turns lambasting, howling, tender, heartfelt; a woman with a truly great voice! The other three guys might not get as much praise, but they can all play a bit!
Tonight’s set is largely based on their latest, 2022, album Now Or Nowhere, 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 of a single that was basically their break-through track in the UK, getting loads of radio air-play last year. It’s a really anthemic scene setter with a massive riff, plenty of pace, thumping bass, and simply stonking vocals, straight out of the Janis Joplin manual! As a statement of intent, this is pretty much the perfect opening track.
Full On You then continues that beefy rock vibe, very like Heart, another whopper of a riff followed by some wonderful guitar work – Tom Shemer is a damn fine player!
Too Late is a live survivor from their debut album, a raucous hip-shaking number, followed by the recent single Lonely – a fantastic display of Lee-La’s vocal skills. 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, a complete vocal tour-de-force!
Only Love features some lovely introductory jingle-jangle guitar, followed by a big riff and wonderful harmonies – it’s very reminiscent of fellow Canadian Bryan Adams. The studio version is hugely radio-friendly, and the live version is beefier but still a timeless, feel-good sing-along powerpop song, wonderfully belted out to the faithful.
Look Innocent is then a monstrous, slowly seething slab of blues-rock, drenched in ’60s vibes. And wow! those vocals, right up there with Alabama Shakes’ Brittany Howard, Lee-La is so soulfully full-on in her delivery of this one, with strong, strong emotion in her voice and yet completely in control, not remotely strained, she is utterly compelling on this song.
The Fire continues this blend of soulful blues, meaty rock, huge emotive vocals – the Spirit of Janis with more than a touch of Elkie Brooks and Vinegar Joe….the end result being somehow really fresh and special. And then we got Devilish Folk, perhaps the strongest song off the second album. This is another monster, building and building, it’s a heavier full-on track live but still faithful to a huge melody and choral mantra. On a par with Grace Slick at her best, it’s such a great song and performance, complete with acapella chorus!
Get With You is another powerhouse song from the second album, followed seamlessly by Tomorrow. This too has a combination of great riffs, superb melodic vocals, and a huge, huge, sing-along chorus – it’s just good-time rock’n’roll at its very, very best, and simply a great way to sign off the main set!
The richly earned encore is a wonderful reworking of U2’s Love Is Blindness. This has a different tone to the full-on rock we’ve been served, it’s a haunting, soulful ballad, darker and more heartfelt than any other version I’ve heard, Lee-La’s voice gives me the shivers on this one, matched only by Tom’s searing solo. Absolutely stunning (see video below)…
And then we get Heart Is Cold, somehow this takes us perfectly full-circle back to The Airplane’s White Rabbit, with a nicely fuzzed, real psychedelic vibe to it, scratchy guitar work, pounding beat and Lee-La once again in full-on Janis mode….and breathe!
To sum up, I love these guys! – The Damn Truth are a superb, slightly old-school band, and some might call it retro-rock – but what the heck it’s just 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, they’ve definitely ‘grown’ by being produced by the legendary Bob Rock, who reportedly found a spirit within the band that he hadn’t experienced for many years. Live, they are absolutely compelling, one of the best gigs I’ve been to for ages! Lots of fun, banter and general over-the-top-ness, 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 solos and PY and Dave’s absolutely powerhouse rhythms. They simply look like four guys having a really great time playing together.
The Damn Truth seem to have been gigging on and off almost all year in the UK, both headlining and supporting the likes of King King, and this autumn Glenn Hughes. That will be really special, all their hard work is paying off for them and I foresee great things for them – Glenn will have to be on top form! I’ll be there, and you need to be!
Tickets for the October tour are at – https://www.thegigcartel.com/Artists-profiles/The-Damn-Truth.htm or https://www.thegigcartel.com/Artists-profiles/Glenn-Hughes.htm