Wilko Johnson's New Year's Eve Show, 100 Club, London
Tuesday 04 January 2011
Even Wilko Johnson's skull is stripped to brutal basics. Bushy grey eyebrows hood the dent in his bald eagle forehead; manic eyes stare down the crowd. In the 1970s, Johnson's band, Dr Feelgood, helped scorch a path for punk. Last year, a documentary by Julien Temple, Oil City Confidential, showed that the largely forgotten guitarist is still magnetically charismatic, though haunted by the death in 2004 of his childhood sweetheart and wife, Irene. Tonight, the success of the film seems to have resurrected not only Johnson's career, but also his spirit.
The 100 Club has also come back from the dead. Its planned closure, now averted, was capitalist cultural vandalism of the sort otherwise running unchecked through Soho, which was once a rock'n'roll hotbed.
Basic air conditioning cannot stop the sweat dripping from the ceiling as the 63-year-old Johnson plays the sort of primal racket that has always made this club jump. Dr Feelgood songs advance on an irresistible rhythm chopped from his guitar, with the Blockheads bassist Norman Watt-Roy in lockstep. But "Paradise" shows the poetry and vulnerability Johnson also drew from his Canvey Island home. His final cry of "Irene!" is a celebratory howl, echoing Marlon Brando's desperate "Ste-lla!"
The menacing persona which made Johnson the stage bodyguard of Dr Feelgood's late singer, Lee Brilleaux, feels less real than usual tonight, amidst gentle grins that suggest he is starting to recover from his loss. The musicians indulge themselves more than they once did, and are indulged by a crowd of every post-teen age. However, in a closing salvo that includes "Back in the Night", Johnson tells the plain story of a man waiting for his baby at the station with essential art. After he leaves, a couple in their sixties are still dancing like the Mods they were in their twenties. The magic that started then is yet to run out.
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