Live Review: Phil Cook – Rough Trade, NYC

If you have not seen Phil Cook live yet, whether he’s playing alongside Mike Taylor in the dominant Hiss Golden Messenger lineup or solo with his band The Guitar Heels, you must add this to your bucket list. Cook is a truly gifted songwriter and musician and he brought 100 percent of his soul and rhythm to Rough Trade a few weeks ago, when he played in support of his new solo album People Are My Drug.

The set began with a mellow, energy-building vibe on He Gives Us All His Love which appears as track five on the new record. Although the attitude of the song remained quiet, the song served as a way for the band to warm up the instruments and the singers to warm up their vocal chords. Steam Powered Blues followed and was the first highlight of the night, as the energy in the room blasted through the roof.

Next the band segued into Miles Away, the third song of the night and the album. This track was co-written with Sylvan Esso’s Amelia Meath, but even though Amelia was not in attendance at the show, the performance was packed with bold harmonies and strong melodies. Phil played the first old song of the night by whipping out Belong from his first release Southland Mission. The first time I listened to People Are My Drug in its entirety I thought there was no comparison to the first record, but hearing this live reminded me about how strong both of Phil’s solo albums are.

Afterwards, the band flowed into Another Mothers Son which is one of my favorites on the latest release. Hearing this song live made me realize even more how special the song is as Phil’s brilliant guitar melodies paved the way for his beautiful vocal melody. The Phil Cook and The Guitar Heels show turned into a Hiss Golden Messenger show for one song as Phil called up front man Mike Taylor to perform Gulfport You’ve Been On My Mind from the band’s most recent release Hallelujah Anyhow. This song became an extra special weekend treat for HGM fans, who saw the band perform a short set the night before at Forest Hills stadium.

Phil shifted the audience’s attention to his bandmate/singer/harmonizer Tamisha Waden as the band performed a raging cover of Nina Simone’s Sea Lion Woman. The entire band’s percussive grooves were put to the test as they all joined in their own rhythmic patterns on this song. Next the band performed Sisters And Brothers by one of Phil’s favorite classic gospel bands The Sensational Nightingales. After hearing this, the audience can easily tell how inspired Phil and his band are by this early, classic gospel sound.

Towards the end of the set, the band performed a song that Phil explained did not make it onto the record. The jam was packed with bass grooves and soaring guitar licks as Phil’s falsetto voice created an edgy, unique sound. The set closer was Deeper Kind – track eight from the latest album – which got the audience jumping and dancing with a lot of hype.

The encore soon ensued with Ain’t It Sweet, another highlight from the first album Southland Mission. This song was packed with upbeat percussion and heavy guitar solos. To cap the night, Phil performed Life, taken from the latest album and written by the legendary Allen Toussaint. Phil Cook is an unbelievable and must-see guitarist/songwriter and his live act is a religious experience that will leave you wanting more and more.

Scott J. Herman

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