It is very unusual for a band to possess equally talented players without being ‘constructed’ or a ‘supergroup’ but the three members of Wille & The Bandits are individually stunning players who have grown together and as a band make some of the best and most intense music you are ever likely to hear.
Add to that the fact that they seem to actually like playing together in a live environment and you are looking at a sublime experience when you get close and personal in a venue like the Half Moon.
Last night they played a set full of old songs, new songs brilliantly and with passion and a near capacity crowd was dancing and funking for the whole set.
Now, I have seen them around half a dozen times and the music has grown darker and funkier every time I see them. Wille Edwards plays slide acoustic, lap slide and Weissenborn, normally from a seated position and delivers throaty and impassioned vocals as well as creating guitar sounds that no-one else is capable of, Matthew Brooks plays some of the funkiest bass you have ever heard on a six string and 5 string electric double bass and Andrew Naumann’s drums are the perfect foil, giving a steady beat when needed or riffing away to add to the funkfest happening on stage – he also plays the djembe as far more than just a boom box.
Hitting the stage ‘sharp’ on 9:17 they kicked off and were soon into ‘Miles Away’ and even shorn of the keyboards on the album version this was a full sound, powerful and with some remarkable sounds from Wille’s guitar. That segued into ‘Gypsy Woman’ and the whole crowd was up and dancing. The smile of Andy Naumann’s face was wide as the stage, shining out from a mass of hair and with Wille seated on the right of the stage it left plenty of room for Matt to move around and lay down some stirring hard-edged funk lines.
‘Scared of The Sun’ slows everything down but cranks up the power, bringing the emotional side of the band’s playing out and showing that Wille can do subtle singing too.
Wille talked for a few minutes about the early days of the band, touring in a tiny and cramped van and never expecting to travel further than the Cornwall or Dorset border, leading into ‘Living Free’, subtly soulful and deeply Bluesey.
One of the highlights was a version of ‘Mammon’ with Matt on bowed double bass and Andrew on Djembe, dark and emotive it hits hard.
They closed with an incredible version of ‘Angel’, the instrumental that Wille wrote for his dying mother. In any less able hands it would be mawkish and depressing but here it was dark, moving and a magnificent tribute to the woman.
They finally sent the crowd home with a ‘1970’ from the new ‘Steal’ album, that had everyone – including your humble reporter – dancing, swinging booty and chanting “Good Times 1970’ like loons. Cue massive smiles, sweat and arms in the air.
All told, a great night. Wille was upright more than I’ve seen him before and it added to the energy. The crowd was into it from the off and it goes down as a very, very good night.