Joint headlining tour hits Oxford...
Delta have a habit of shooting themselves in the foot. Like a Brummie facsimile of Shack, the Roberts brothers and band seem to collapse in a blur of booze, contractual wrangles and acrimony each time they look set to finally fulfil their decade-long promise.
Tonight is the start of their redemption. Problem is, they’re late. On this tour, everyone rotates billing and tonight Delta are due to open. But at stage-time they’re still loading in their gear. It is not a good omen.
After the briefest of soundchecks, they begin and immediately things click. The old fears of laughable live shows are forgotten. The brothers appear sober and in good humour and their harmonies meld. On ‘Elephant Man’ they sound like The Fall doing The Beatles, elsewhere they sound like The Band. On show closer, new track ‘Survive’, they sound like an unstoppable force.
Witness, though, are forever doomed to be rock’s nearly men. Despite this year’s ‘Under A Sun’ album, which saw them mutate from blustering Verve acolytes into earnest young men who own the entire Buffalo Springfield back catalogue, their aim remains untrue. The best thing that can be said of them tonight is that when frontman Gerard Starkie’s voice soars and a sense of an anthem grows – as on ‘You Are All My Own Invention’ – then Witness are really quite good.
Grand Drive hew their sound as much from the pop sensibility of the Everly Brothers as from 50 years of pedal steel. Tonight, though, the Wilson brothers’ sweet close harmonies (‘Don’t Let The Grass Grow’) and defiant, tender call to seize the day (‘Tell it Like It Is’) are anthemic. Not an easy trick to pull off when you’re Australian exiles living in Croydon.