Wilko Johnson at Royal Albert Hall, London - live review

Death-cheating guitarist’s birthday bash blows the roof off the RAH

Crowd shot

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There’s a tendency to label every Wilko live appearance since he beat cancer as The Gig That Shouldn’t Have Been. It’s an increasingly lazy practice, but it’s clearly on a lot of punters’ minds at this most celebratory shindig – his biggest ever headline show, conveniently aligned to his 70th birthday (which was actually back in July).

For his part, Johnson struts and strums in a business-as-usual manner, with no “Look at me! I’m alive!” histrionics to distract from the job in hand – which is delivering razor-sharp R&B in the company of long-standing trusty cohorts bassist Norman Watt-Roy and drummer Dylan Howe.

It’s a set of reassuring familiarity rather than big surprises (although special guest John Cooper Clarke returning to the stage for an encore of Bye Bye Johnny is a nice touch), each staple stretching as far back as the first Dr Feelgood album welcomed with a lusty roar.

Arguably, Johnson’s performance is more restrained than in recent years, but not due to any noticeable signs of fatigue. It’s more a case that he’s easing off the pedal on the material, some of which he first played live half a century ago, enabling his band to flourish in their respective roles. Indeed, Roxette has rarely sounded like such a complete group performance, while Sneakin’ Suspicion is imbued with the jazzy, funky tropes Watt-Roy brought to The Blockheads.

Terry Staunton was a senior editor at NME for ten years before joined the founding editorial team of Uncut. Now freelance, specialising in music, film and television, his work has appeared in Classic Rock, The Times, Vox, Jack, Record Collector, Creem, The Village Voice, Hot Press, Sour Mash, Get Rhythm, Uncut DVD, When Saturday Comes, DVD World, Radio Times and on the website Music365.