“Here’s one from a few years ago,” Shakin’ Stevens announces to the mostly middle-aged-plus crowd seated sedately in Leeds’s Grand Theatre and Opera House.
A pause as his features contort into a rueful grin and a shrug. “Well, maybe more than a few years ago,” he winks as his nine-piece band strike up into an exuberant bouncy Turning Away from 1985’s Lipstick, Powder and Paint.
It’s a rare moment of fidelity for the rock ’n’ roll revivalist sound the singer – whose real name is Michael Barratt – took to the top of the charts.
Over a two-act-show, he eschews the hits and their typical genre trappings in favour of a rawer strand of Americana that both confounds and enthuses his audience in equal fashion.
Echoes of Our Time, Stevens’s latest album, treads the popular path of Eighties-pop-star-comebacks in ditching the formula for something earthier, in the form of muddy blues and swamp rock, complete with lyrical references to copper mining, trench warfare and the Salvation Army.
Stevens’s heroic commitment to new material should be applauded; the whole record is intermittently spaced throughout in a generally well-paced show, and are all finely rendered by his band, from the harmonica-licked thud of opener Down in the Hole to the snatches of mandolin on the title track. Not all hit the mark; the Louisiana gothic of To Spread the Word is dirge-like in its moodiness.
But Stevens has conviction in his newer material; 2007’s How Could It Be Like That is growling soul rock a lick away from Tina Turner and a rootsy cover of CCR’s Have You Ever Seen the Rain? is a triumphant highlight. At 69, black-quiff a touch flatter, he may not have the range – but Stevens’s tones remain idiosyncratic and distinctly his own, bringing a warm, amiable quality to proceedings
When the classics come – nestled alongside deep cuts and covers – they are given a slide-guitar makeover to suit the rest of the set too.
It’s Raining and This Ole House take a while to unspool through the six-string action; but rowdier numbers such as Hot Dog and Marie, Marie spawn an outbreak of creaky pandemonium and dad-dancing.
By the time Green Door has been unleashed in a brisk encore, the Grand is just about boogied out.
Musical legacies are a tenuous thing; in abjuring from his own, Shakin’ Stevens exemplifies why a gamble on the unexpected sometimes makes for an enjoyable alternative to the nostalgia trip.