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Wilko Johnson at Royal Albert Hall, London - live review

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

Crowd shot

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.