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Copyright Nick Morgan and crew

Concert Review by Nick Morgan

Shepherd’s Bush Empire, London, March 18th 2007

I don’t really watch a lot of TV, and when I do it’s mostly in hotel rooms scattered around the world at some awful time in the morning when I can’t sleep (why – I’m in one now). The strange thing is that wherever I am, and no matter what time it is, there’s always what seems to be the same Steven Seagal film showing. You know. It’s the one where Mr Seagal karate-chops and kicks his way up and down a train, (and along the roof and quite possibly underneath it too) packed with nasty guys who want to destroy the world, or some such. They’ve also kidnapped his daughter (or was that another film?), which as I recall turns out to be a pretty dumb thing to do as that just makes him mad. And you wouldn’t want to see Mr Seagal mad would you? I mean he’s a pretty serious aikido black belt, and he’s also a reincarnated Tulku, which is something to do with nirmanakaya and puts him on the same level of consciousness as the Dalai Lama. Oh yes – and in addition to all of that he’s a blues guitarist, with a band with the unfortunate name of Thunderbox. You can all make your own jokes about that. And maybe a bit like this nirmanakaya stuff, when he plays guitar he transcends his corporeal being and transmutes into the Mojo Priest (which happens to be the title of his new album). And as we’re reminded for much of the evening – Steven Seagal is THE Mojo Priest.

Mojo Priest
Actually despite the queues outside, the Bush is less than half full. It turns out that the queue is made up of ‘competition winners’ – that old last-minute way of trying to give away tickets to fill a theatre. And the previous night’s gig in Oxford had been cancelled and ticket holders urged to travel to London instead – free buses laid on too. Inside there are some of Mr Seagal’s diehard fans – middle-aged Mums and daughters mostly – (and whom I bet weren’t expecting THE Mojo Priest), together with, I have to say, some pretty weird types (more nirmanakaya perhaps). Almost half of the seats in the first balcony (the upper two are dark, silent and closed) is reserved for guests – many remain empty – but TMP does take time out to tell us that one of them “someone who I was very privileged to meet this afternoon” is Yusuf Islam. I thought Mr M. Priest was taking the piss, but no, he’s there opposite us, furrowed brow, chin on hand, looking very perplexed as the band’s two singers genuflect, bow and scrape in the presence of, well THE Mojo Priest. I wouldn’t have thought Yusuf was really a fan of Mr Seagal’s almost pornographically violent action flicks, and can’t imagine he’s too keen on worshipping false gods and graven images (and with his wooden bearing TMK could definitely be classified as the latter) so his presence ‘till almost the very end was a mystery.
Super Chickan
Super Chickan (left) and Magic Slim (right)
A pleasant surprise was Clarksdale blues veteran Super Chickan – “won’t somebody shoot that thang” - who turned in a enjoyable and engaging novelty/blues set to open the night featuring his wonderful home made guitars that you can buy (I nearly did) here should you visit. It was all a bit too jokey – “won’t somebody shoot that thang” - but the Chickan is a much better player and singer than the comedy routine suggests and worthwhile seeking out. Another surprise was the presence of legendary Chicago bluesman Magic Slim, one of the last exponents of a traditionally gritty roadhouse blues, who joined THE Mojo Priest towards the end of his set and eventually managed to make his Flying V heard over the din. Not perhaps the best way to hear one of the last greats, but it’ll do.
Magic Slim and the Mojo Priest
Magic Slim and THE Mojo Priest
And what of the main event? Well – it was like a real concert. All the kit’s got “Steven Seagal” stencilled on it. Thunderbox, name notwithstanding, are an accomplished band, no slouch among them, and Mr Seagal, or should I say THE Mojo Priest, clearly takes the band, the music, and himself, very seriously. His impassive features are etched with concentration as he takes solo after solo (really I think the good work is being done by the two guitarists in the band) and I have to say that insofar as one could tell over the pretty rough mix, he’s not bad – he’s certainly better than me. He sings with a growl, struggles with high notes and relies on his two excellent singers to carry the hard work. I was instructed not to mention his purple tunic and bulging biceps. There’s a camera crane on stage and at least two other mobile cameras, fixed cameras on both sides of the balcony and another mobile. It’s big money rock and roll DVD time. Which is why the two singers are working so hard (they deserve to have been paid overtime) to try and make the audience appear to be enthusiastic – which to be fair some of them are.
Mojo Priest and Photographers
However I think even the most ardent Seagal fan must have cringed when he came out with a southern swamped version of jive talking. He certainly didn’t learn to talk like that when he was brought up in Michigan or California – and living in Louisiana doesn’t really give him the right to affect such a ghastly and embarrassing parody of the real thing. First of all it was something about alligators down on the Bayou in Louisiana (this, I think, to introduce ‘Alligator ass’, with the memorable lyric “Someone took me to a restaurant and I had to eat something fast, I ordered me some chicken, they gave me alligator ass”). Later he introduced ‘We gotta quit’ (I think) with an even more excruciating “Ahhh wuzz waulkn daan Beale Street the other day and this chick hit on me …..” Oh dear, oh dear. I swear even Yusuf had his head in his hands at this point. Oh yes, and if we’re on the subject of lyrics (which we’re not really, but what the hell) then what about this from ‘Gunfire in a juke joint’: “I call my mama, I tell her I'm hot as a pistol, she say baby you better come on home you know, I'm wet as a whistle”. Hmmmm.
Vanity rock and roll? Well it’s hard not to think so really – but some people seem to like it. The Priest was even given an award for all the records he’s sold in France by a fellow who looked alarmingly like a greying Alain Prost. And I know it’s easy to take a big slow moving target and deliberately tear it to shreds. Which I’m not even going to think of doing, because Mr Seagal, and Mr Priest, are both much bigger and tougher than me. No, instead I’m going to light up some of Mr Seagal’s organic Red Crystal incense, keep track of my mantra recitations with a Seagal Mala Prayer Counter, and crack open a can of Steven Seagal’s Lightening Bolt, which “contains the secrets of true energy that martial arts master and actor Steven Seagal discovered in his travels all over the world”. Maybe it will help me get my nirmanakaya back. - Nick Morgan (concert photographs by Kate)

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