Damn, I wish I’d been at that show.
Any solid live album creates in its listener the wish that they could’ve been there when the band took the stage, and such is the case with Robert Jon & The Wreck’s latest release Live At The Ancienne Belgique.
Out now via Joe Bonamassa’s Journeyman Records, the album is energetic and fun, its songs at once practiced and free-flowing. This band has experience putting on a good show for its audience, and the music drives that truth home.
Live At The Ancienne Belgique is also available as a DVD, though this review focuses on the live album. Both offer audiences a chance to go back in time to the Ancienne Belgique in Brussels, Belgium, on June 29, 2022, as Robert Jon & The Wreck stepped onstage to play that night’s sold-out show. At the time, the band was over the hump of a 67-date tour spread out over 75 days in nine countries. Distanced a bit from the pandemic shutdowns that necessitated a two-year postponement of the tour, Robert Jon & The Wreck sound on this album like they’re back in the swing of things and enjoying every minute of the cheering crowd.
The live album’s 13 tracks see the Southern California band dusting off old favorites and embracing newer songs that haven’t seen the stage quite as much. These first 12 years of the band’s time together have been packed with album and song releases, so they had a lot of material to choose from. Robert Jon & The Wreck revisit 2015’s Glory Bound for the live album opener, “The Devil Is Your Only Friend,” and “Blame It On the Whiskey.” Live At The Ancienne Belgique closes out with an extended and solo-packed “Cold Night,” also from Glory Bound.
From 2016’s Good Life Pie, Robert Jon & The Wreck revisit “Hey Hey Mama” (for which they released a song-specific live video filmed during the Brussels show) and “The Death of Me,” and go on to play “Old Friend” from their self-titled 2018 album. “Do You Remember,” “Oh Miss Carolina,” “Tired of Drinking Alone” and “Don’t Let Me Go” are all pulled from the band’s 2020 album Last Light on the Highway, and the title track from 2021’s Shine a Light on Me Brother is also brought into the mix.
Frontman Robert Jon Burrison, who plays guitar and handles lead vocals, said in a press release that the performance of “Shine a Light on Me Brother” for the live album involved “a lot of moving pieces” and stuck in his mind for that reason. “Without the horns from the studio recording, it definitely has more of a ‘rock’ feel to it in a live setting,” Burrison said in the release. Backup singers also contribute to the song’s full sound.
Most other songs on the album are similar to the originals in style and structure, though that’s not to say this detracts from the performances. The band sounds like they’re having fun playing together, and the performances bring an infectious energy to each track.
There are a handful of small moments that stand out as reminders of the live album format. At the start, there’s the band’s greeting to the audience and spoken encouragement for attendees to “be on your best behavior” due to the cameras capturing footage for the DVD. At the end of the show, there’s the embrace of the jam band style as the group expands “Cold Night” and gives anyone who wants it an opportunity to solo. There are also two shorter tracks in the mix that further celebrate the solo work of lead guitarist Henry James Schneekluth on “Henry Guitar Solo” and keyboardist Steve Maggiora on “Steve Keyboard Solo.” Each of these elements contribute an essential piece of the live album puzzle.
It’s impossible to package up everything genuine about a concert experience so listeners can play it back in full, but Live At The Ancienne Belgique gets pretty close to the live experience. With another EP out less than two months ago and more new music on the way, it’s a busy time for Robert Jon & The Wreck. Luckily for the band members and their audiences, everyone appears to be enjoying the ride.
The Review: 9/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– The Devil Is Your Only Friend
– Henry Guitar Solo
– Cold Night
– Shine a Light on Me Brother
The Big Hit
– Shine a Light on Me Brother
Buy the album: Amazon