With your humble reporter the youngest in the room by a considerable amount, a rapt and enthusiastic audience greeted the return of the English gravelly-voiced blues/soul singer. Though some are applauding the show, others the legend, Cocker’s backing group are worthy of all the adulation they receive. Featuring Hendrix alumnus Mike Finnigan on Hammond, the phenomenal Oneiedo-James Rebeccu on bass and Nichelle Tillman on backing vocals and stealer of Up Where We Belong, they are the perfect mix of sexy 30-something and venerable near-legends.
Dwarfed by this show is the opening slot of George Thoroughgood and the Destroyers who are heavy on theatrics and light on memorable hooks. Madison Blues and Tail Driver allow a copiously sweating Thoroughgood to get fiendish on the guitar, only it seems to be one style he can manage; an open-tuned slide guitar. This doesn’t stop him throwing up his hands mid-solos if amazed by his skills however, and it is, in the end, an entertaining set.
For a man who has spent his near 50-year career sounding like an possessed alcoholic, Joe Cocker looks, unsurprisingly, worse for wear. Never having been the most handsome of crooners, his distinctive singing style is rendered all the more arresting by his huge barrel chest, flailing limbs and squalls of saliva which accompany his outbursts. With a distant, almost blank-eyed gaze, he lurches towards the microphone again and again, contorting his shoulders and squeezing out impassioned grunt after whispered syllable in a near-imperceptible way. Four songs into his set he’s shed his blue paisley suit jacket, said a few words of thanks and his vocal style becomes legible, though his bizarre air-soloing whenever he’s not singing remains. After a blistering run-through of his first US hit The Letter, things get very AM radio with the power ballad to end all power ballads Up Where We Belong and You…Are So….Beautiful….To Me which allows Cocker to scrunch his face up even more and the crowd to get louder in appreciation. Slipping in the title track from his new album Hard Knocks, Cocker then revels in Hitchcock Railway, which gets him back to his bluesiest roots, before searing versions of the songs people paid for; our hearts are unchained, we’re getting by with some help from our friends, but our hats are off. As is Cocker, for a few minutes, before returning to encore with a barely recognisable Cry Me A River and a heartfelt (as if he can do any other way) take on Thankful, satisfying us all.