The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world

West Coast Blues n’ Roots Festival
Fremantle Park, Western Australia
Sunday 17 April 2011

Words by Shane Pinnegar & Mark Diggins
Photos by Mark Diggins

 

Early rain and a steamy tropical atmosphere didn’t deter any of the thousands pouring like sticky treacle into Fremantle Park for a radically different looking Blues n’ Roots Festival.

 

Following last year’s 5 stage extravaganza, 2011 was stripped back to just two big stages, and with around 20,000 punters it certainly eased the congestion and bottlenecks of flesh trying to get from one stage to another which was so prevalent in 2010.

 

SP

 

 

RUTHIE FOSTER is a great way to start the festival with some soulful deep fried blues, she has behind her a band of great musicians and everyone on stage and in the already growing crowd is enjoying the set. ‘Someone’s getting excited’ Ruthie good naturedly tells the crowd when a few things start getting thrown around out in the crowd, but it’s all fun and beach balls rather than bottles. In fact that is the theme really of the whole day and it’s a credit to the Promoters that the friendly atmosphere of such a big event lasts all day long.

 

‘Sometimes we get the spirit and it’s on. Do you feel the Spirit? Just check your money maker – you know you do’. The band is really in the groove by mid set and the cover of Patty Griffin’s ‘When it Don’t Come Easy’ is a high point amongst what is a very enjoyable introduction to Ruthie Foster for this reviewer. Ending with the funked up soul of ‘Travelling Shoes’ she leaves us on a high.

 

MD


This years’ ubiquitous Australian festival artist is WASHINGTON, but her blend of light, and rather hit-and-miss catchy, synth-based lite indie funk/rock is neither really convincing nor a particularly good fit for the day. Her strong vocals help draw a decent young crowd, but to be honest they also don’t seem particularly convinced.

 

 

MD


SBS favourite, TV quiz show ROCKWIZ have successfully adapted their winning formula to the live arena with a sold out national tour last year, and they opened up proceedings on the Big Top Stage with their infectious brand of mirth and rock geekiness. All the television faces were in attendance, hostess Julia Zemiro and creator/rock geek in command Brian Nankervis making sure their stand up and improv talents are put to good use. Surprise guests Marcia Hines and Glenn Richards (Augie March) played their parts well, but it was WA’s irrepressible Tim Rogers (You Am I) who stole the show with a rollicking good time version of The Stones ‘Before They Make Me Run’ and a clutch of cheeky and flirtatious one liners, not to mention an impressive and razor sharp classic rock knowledge which saw his team bring home the bacon with a late and lightning fast run to the finish line.

 

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I don’t know a lot abut ELVIS COSTELLO’s recent output with his wonderfully organic band The Imposters, but he played a solid selection of catchy tunes today, featuring plenty of oldies like ‘Every Day I Write The Book’, ‘Alison’, ‘Pump It Up’ and ‘(What’s so Funny Bout) Peace, Love & Understanding’ to keep the masses happy.

 

 

SP


As part of the legendary Staples Singers MAVIS STAPLES was no stranger to the hit parade with their gospel-influenced rock and roll and r & b from back in the days when r & b actually meant rhythm & blues, not the cloyingly overproduced pop it stands for today.

 

 

Mavis proudly and masterfully ran through a set of spirituals and protest songs in the greenhouse-like muggy confines of the Big Top, also displaying a fine sense of humour, joking about not remembering where she was but being glad to be here anyway.

 

Her version of The Band’s ‘The Weight’ sent shivers up and down spines, allowing her mighty vocal talents to flex their muscles; ‘Freedom Highway’, which she introduced as being written in 1962 by Pop Staples, embodies why we love rock and roll – Staples has the soul, the voice and the passion to send the listener floating on cloud nine. The set closer, a stunning version of the Staple Singers 1972 hit ‘I’ll Take You there’ was over all too soon, and with much affectionate waving she shuffled off the stage.

 

 

Mavis may be a diminutive lady, dressed like you grandmother, but she is full of power and clearly brimming with the lords grace. You can sense her joy in sharing music so full of soul and belief. It’s almost enough to make an atheist wonder if there just might be a god, and this was a set of music that comes from another level, another place, music that transcends your musical taste, powerful & magical.

 

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The Big Top was full to overflowing by the time GURRUMUL YUNUPINGU took the stage fifteen minutes behind schedule, lured in by the hype for this blind aboriginal guitarist and singer. Gurrumul wasted no time, launching into a softly picked riff which allowed his angelic voice the spotlight, but the lullaby-like nature of his tunes proved (beautifully) dull rapidly.

 

 

SP


 

Over on the Park Stage Blues & Roots frequent flyer MICHAEL FRANTI & SPEARHEAD hit the ground running with a bass heavy and groovy ‘Everyone Deserves Music’. Franti is a dynamic performer and spent as much time running through the crowd as he did on stage, and tunes like ‘Rock n roll, Whole Lotta Soul’, ‘All I Want Is You’, ‘Hello Bonjour’ and ‘Sound Of The Sunshine’ showing off his bouncy combination of rock, reggae, pop and hip hop. Pulling a young couple from the crowd on one of his forays into the throng, Franti gave them both a guitar – unplugged, presumably – and let them “shred” to Nirvana to much amusement.

 

 

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The Big Top stage was running 20 minutes late by the time ROBERT RANDOLPH & THE FAMILY BAND strutted onto the stage, looking more like Fiddy Cent or Usher. Randolph blows those lightweights away though, tearing up a storm on his lap steel while his band of cousins and friends hold down a heavy set of tunes which referenced Sly & The Family Stone as much as Hendrix, Clapton and BB King, not to mention inserting a snippet of Michael Jackson’s ‘Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough’ into his extended solo in ‘I Need More Love’. Classy stuff, seamlessly melding blues, rock, funk and soul – the surprise set of the day.

 

 

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THE CAT EMPIRE proved popular on the main stage with their tried and tested salsa flavoured pop tunes, but failed to bring anything new to the mix, playing pretty much the same festival set they have dragged around the country for a few laps now.

 

 

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The lightning fast Spanish guitar fretwork of RODRIGO Y GABRIELLA did, however, excite. Like an acoustic guitar tsunami, these two Mexican virtuosos provided one of the highlights of the day as they tore through amazingly inventive interpretations of Metallica’s ‘Orion’ and Hendrix’s ‘Voodoo Chile’. Dripping energy, they twirled and leapt about the stage, never missing a note, Gabriella especially using the body of her instrument as a percussive tool, yelping excitedly like a couple of crazed mariachis on a mission to Mexicanise rock n’ roll! Uniquely dynamic and enthralling.

 

SP


Frank Zappa famously joked that BOB DYLAN could use a throat lozenge, but for his first few songs today he should have been fronting a death metal band, such was the incomprehensible guttural dirge emanating from his well worn throat. Yes he did get a little better as the set progressed, but still many songs were unrecognisable as he droned on disinterestedly in front of the innocuous backing provided by his over-rehearsed band of crack shots.

 

After the spine tingling soul of Mavis Staples and the uniqueness and dynamism of Rodrigo Y Gabriella, Dylan was far worse than a disappointment – he was a shambles, going through the motions half heartedly. To add to the detachment, grumpy Bob wouldn't let any photographers to shoot from in front of the sound desk, and the video screens to the side of the stage showed a static long shot for the entire set.

 

 

No-one will ever deny his place amongst the true greats and innovators of rock n’ roll, but when an artist reaches a point where they are obviously unhappy doing what they’re doing, and their art is singularly unentertaining, then surely it’s time to retire. I can only guess what the curmudgeonly one was paid for today’s show, but I can state categorically that he didn’t earn a cent of it with a performance that was both embarrassing and insulting, and one which only a psychotically blinkered fan would purport to have enjoyed.

 

SP


After such a turgid and meritless display, it was fantastic to see another legend who was certainly NOT past his prime. TOOTS & THE MAYTALS proved more rewarding by the first line of enduring rock reggae classic ‘Pressure Drop’ than the whole of Bob’s set, running through such genre crossover hits ‘Time Tough’, ‘Reggae Got Soul’ and the mega influential ’54-46 That’s My Number’.

 

 

“Toots” Hibbert gave a great performance, his 66 year old voice showing no signs of giving up, and though he never achieved the crossover success of Bob Marley, Peter Tosh or Jimmy Cliff, it’s easy to see why his ska-soul-rock-reggae blend was so effortlessly influential, being covered by artists as diverse as The Clash, The Specials, Keef Richards, Izzy Stradlin, Adam Ant, Chaka Demus, Eric Clapton, No Doubt, Jack Johnson, Reel Big Fish, Thievery Corporation and many more.

 

SP


 

GRACE JONES always scared me as a child and tonight she was still scary but ultimately very entertaining too and got the crowd on her side even before the show started when the black curtains that were hiding the stage were pulled aside and nothing happened for a few minutes until once lone voice in the crowd called out ‘have you looked in the toilet!’

 

 

After a seeming technical hitch had been corrected a cage rose from the back of the stage with Grace on it wearing a space-age headpiece that seemed to be largely a skull cap with an irradiated peacock feather on it. Opening with the Iggy Pop/David Bowie classic ‘Nightclubbing’ too had the crowd from the off. Two songs in almost tripping over the cage Grace good naturedly cursed her crew for trying to kill her and promised to get them back later. It had the crowd eating from her hand from that point on.

 

A great set to close the main stage and a lot more entertaining and enjoyable than I had imagined. I must dust off that old vinyl…

 

MD


THE BLIND BOYS OF ALABAMA closed the tent stage in true grandeur and style. Between Mavis Staples earlier and the day and this bunch of fine old Southern Gentlemen it was hard to pick a winner. Suffice to say they were my picks of the day.

 

 

Highlights for me included the cover of Norman Greenbaum's ‘Spirit in the Sky’ and Curtis Mayfield's ‘People Get Ready’, with a wonderful blend of gospel harmonies and real rhythm and blues they hit the ground running and put on a tour de force of real soulful spirit-filled harmony.

 

 

A unique experience well worth staying back to see.

 

MD