Given the task of warming the crowd up before the main show was the Irish singer Grainne Duffy, with her Epiphone SG slung over her shoulder she opened the night up on a bluesy note with “Good Love Had To Die”, accompanied by Paul Sherry on the acoustic guitar. Caught unawares by the bold opening, the crowd was quickly swayed by her rich, crisp vocals and effortless guitar playing, which was prominently featured throughout her performances. The pair picked up the pace in the middle portion of their opening act, covering classics blues tunes like “Damn Right I’ve Got The Blues”, alongside their own original songs. Following some ‘backstop border’ related banter, at the expense of the primarily English crowd, the pair closed their set with a mesmerising cover of Etta James’ “I’d Rather Go Blind”. This was the perfect song to show off Grainne’s rich vocal tone and discreet guitar embellishments, I can assure you the crowd was hypnotised.
Once the opening act had finished the tension in the room steadily began to rise as the crowd eagerly awaited the arrival of Kris and the band. The audience was for the most part bearded, long-haired, leathered up, and ready to rock and roll. As the lights dimmed, the beginning of the set was announced with a roaring guitar solo from Kris followed by the rest of the band as they set into the classic introduction to “Rock and Roll Running Through my Veins”, from the band’s first album. Kris’ strong lead guitar and gravelly vocals were evident from the get go, he confidently swaggered at the front of the stage in the distinctive sleeveless shirt he often wears during his, gigs showing off the intricate ink work caking his upper body and arms.
The next few songs continued on a similar note, expressing the high energy levels and aggressive style distinctive of the band’s most recent album, featuring tracks like “Stitch Me Up” and “I Don’t Owe Nobody Nothing”, (not the most grammatically correct song as Kris rightly admitted whilst changing guitars). The crowd responded appropriately with enthusiastic chanting and headbanging to be seen all around the room. It became clear by the 5th song in the set, a groovy mashup of “Heart on Your Sleeve” and “I’m Gone” featuring embellishment pulled right out of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (You can check out a rendition of this mashup on YouTube if you don’t believe me), that the chemistry within the band was incredible. Most notably, the frequent interplay and melodic call/response between Kris’ guitar playing and the keyboard player (Josiah J Manning) made for some of the most tasteful and enjoyable musical performances I’ve ever witnessed live. It is clear that this is a band that has been allowed to familiarise themselves with one another through prolific touring over the past year, the quality of the performances by all band members screamed experience and confidence.
Despite the adrenaline fuelled music that formed the majority of the set, the highlight of my evening came when the band slowed things down a few steps to deliver the most poignant song of the night. The steady bass, powerful vocal performance and psychedelic high notes of “Watching Over Me”, a song written by Kris as a tribute to his father, moved the whole room with its potent emotional sentiment and Gary Moore-esque guitar style. In the final few songs of the night, the band dialled everything back up to 11 with songs like “Lovers or Losers”, “Propane” and the band’s most popular tune “Hail Mary”. The crowd were stunned during the penultimate song of the night when Kris erupted into a face-melting guitar solo in which he proceeded to play the guitar behind his head and then with his teeth, resembling the exuberant antics of Jimi Hendrix.
The Kris Barras Band delivered a diverse set, featuring high energy rock and roll tunes punchy enough to get even the most reserved heads banging, whilst seamlessly blending powerful blues and jazz influence into their music. The crowd was with them every step of the way, the band was a true pleasure to behold and is certainly worth keeping an eye on for the next time they’re in town.