Tuesday, 28 May 2013

Live Review - Bluesfest, 2013

Published in the May issue of Rhythms.

Byron Bay Bluesfest
March 28 – April 1, 2013

This year was my tenth Bluesfest, the culmination of a decade of magnificent musical memories all melding into one, each year adding to and expanding the canon, Bluesfest’s 24th incarnation certainly being no exception to that rule – truly an exceptional way to celebrate a tin anniversary.

Go Jane Go
First up was Go Jane Go, Americana in its purest form – Kieran Kane on guitar and vocals, his son Lucas drumming, David Francey singing. Simple and effective, it held me captive on the Thursday afternoon, a perfect way to begin proceedings.

One of my absolute highlights was one I hadn’t banked on – Tav Falco & the Panther Burns. Man, grease up your hair, put on a sharp suit and get awn down to this country/blues-a-billy punk ‘n’ roll. I’d heard these guys had been a big influence on one of my favourite bands of all time, Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, so I hot-footed it over and became enraptured. Despite the Friday rain, these guys ran red-hot, kicking and screaming their way into my heart – killer stuff.

Another of my favourites, who I saw snatches of three or four times, were the Music Maker Blues Revue cats, who I had the pleasure of meeting and also interviewing. Man, they may be ancient (in some cases), but they can rock and they damn well had the blues – and this wasn’t just blues by numbers either, but a hellstorm of pounding good times, an almost desperation being displayed, these guys loved this music so much. This was so real, the players themselves just real people, they really hit a chord and I hope they come back again and again.

Chris Smither
Another who I loved and also had the good fortune to interview (in fact, I’d rate it as one of my favourite interviews of all time), was Chris Smither. His blues-tinged folk is so simple, but this man has such a knack for drawing you in through song, and so I sat spellbound, just listening, letting it all wash over. ‘Love You Like A Man’ has got to be one of my favourite tunes ever.

Others who stood out included the legendary Tony Joe White, who turned the fuzz up to 25 and just stomped on it, his drummer backing him to the hilt. William Elliott Whitmore held crowds in the palm of his hand too, his music also simple, and yet so raw and real, field songs for The Now – there’s nothing fake about this man, make no mistake.

And then of course, there was Robert Plant. I’m a huge Zeppelin fan, so I wanted to see what he’d do to these songs that defined a lot of my childhood (indeed, a lot of my whole life) – I knew it wouldn’t just be a faithful recreation, and he didn’t disappoint. He took these old Zep songs, plus a few blues tunes, and rebuilt them from the ground up with his African-tinged band. This was a real music lovers set. Many wandered away, dispirited, but they lost out in my mind – this was one of the greatest sets I’ve ever seen at Bluesfest, easily.

I did duck away for twenty minutes or so to catch a bit of Iggy Pop. I’d lamented in the lead-up to the festival that it’d be impossible to tear myself away from one or the other, and while I dug what Iggy was throwing down (and I also appreciated getting more stoned, passively, than I have for years), it just wasn’t as captivating as Percy – perhaps if someone else had been playing at the same time, I’d have stayed with Iggy and loved it. In fact, I know I would have, but I got lured back to Plant, and man, am I glad I did. His version of ‘Whole Lotta Love’, with Willie Dixon’s ‘Who Do You Love’ woven into it, was a masterpiece, and one which for me, summed up Bluesfest this year.

So, a year of surprises, a year of discovery, a year of fantastic music that will be (as I say every year) damn hard to top come my eleventh festival. We await next year’s 25th anniversary with baited breath.

Samuel J. Fell

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