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The Rock Pit - Hard rock, Metal and Blues Interviews, news & reviews from Australia and around the world
WEST COAST BLUES AND ROOTS 2014 LIVE REVIEW

WEST COAST BLUES AND ROOTS, FREMANTLE PARK APRIL 13 2014

WEST COAST BLUES AND ROOTS

FREMANTLE PARK, FREMANTLE WA AUSTRALIA

FEATURING: THE DAVE MATTHEWS BAND, JOHN MAYER, MICHAEL FRANTI, STEVE EARLE

ELVIS COSTELLO AND THE IMPOSTERS, THE DOOBIE BROTHERS AND MORE...

APRIL 13 2014

A highlight on any music-lover's calendar, West Coast Blues and Roots rolled into town again last weekend with a line-up very different to last year's stellar 10th Anniversary edition, and you know what? It delivered yet again with a roster that might well have been mellower than previous year, but it was one which rocked just as impressively, and brought an impressive crowd to their feet...

This year’s West Coast Blues and Roots may well not have had the huge stars of last year’s massive two-day event but in The Dave Matthews Band found a headliner worthy of the tag and who brought the songs that have made him massive in the US to a sun-scorched Fremantle.


The day started almost as impressively with a real variety of artists on both the Park and Big Top stages drawing ever increasing crowds as the day wore on. First up on the main stage Dave Hole showed why this Australian Blues guitarist is so revered with a set that really injected the Blues to the day despite the oppressive heat. In the Big Top The Soul Rebels threatened to steal the show early with the kind of set that makes this Freo staple so iconic.


If you could bear the mid-day heat it was well worth getting in early to witness the likes of home-grown Blues icon Russel Morris and eclectic international Morcheeba on the Park Stage, both equally impressive in very different ways. Over in the Big Top it was no less of a party atmosphere while there was still room to move as Jake Bugg put on a lively set.

For most though the day in the ‘Top’ really started with the surprisingly early set time of Steve Earle, this year here with his full band The Dukes. After a lower-key than expected start Earle delighted the crowd with a huge sound and staples like ‘Some Day’; ‘Hillbilly Highway’ and the classic ‘Guitar Town’. As you might have expected though it was witnessing the passion the band tucked into Australian Radio staple ‘Copperhead Road’ that drew the biggest reaction of the day so far and a moment that will surely stand out as a highlight of the day for those that witnessed it.


Out on the sundrenched main stage Gary Clark Jr (last seen down-under oddly at the 2013 line-up of the Big Day Out where he put on a blistering set on a much smaller stage) treats us to a stunning display of Hendrix-lite Blues infused with a good dose of funk and soul; surely adding to his reputation down here. And while some press, sadly enough are waiting for his celebrity girlfriend to appear in the wings we let him allow the music to do the talking. If you wanted to back a relatively ‘new’ artist to have the staying power to see in the 20th Anniversary this may well be the guy to do it and then some. 

Over in the Big Top the average age of the crowd has been increasing steadily for what for many is one of the big draws – The Doobie Brothers – here in their original incarnation. They saunter onto the stage beaming, before powering into ‘Jesus is Just Alright For Me’. It’s a consummate set of three guitar crowd pleasers and sweet melodies that covers all the hits. For a band that formed back in 1969 (yep that’s 45 years ago) and has more than 40 million album sales to their name they have a vigour that most half their age would relish. Songs like ‘Long Train Running’ and ‘Listen to the Music’ (which date from ’72 and ’73 respectively) opened a few more eyes to a legend that today we surely as sweet sounding as they have ever been.


Out on the Park stage Matt Corby was surprisingly good and had rather more substance than we imagined he would; while ‘Boy and Bear’ took to the tent stage late in front of the youngest crowd of the day, to clash horribly with Elvis Costello and the Imposters. That led to the younger crowd missing out on an Elvis set that started with all the hits (Opening with ‘Pump It Up’, ‘Oliver’s Army’ and ‘Watching the Detectives’) and never let up until his heartfelt tribute to Jesse Winchester with ‘Midnight Bus’. As if that wasn’t enough, John McFee from the Doobies joined him onstage for ‘Alison’ a track from Elvis’ first album which John played on. Perhaps for most though, it was the classic Costello penned ‘(What’s So Funny About) Peace Love and Understanding’ that drew the biggest response.


While Erykah Badu wowed the Big Top stage with her jazz-soul stylings most were warming up for John Mayer (without a Whiskey in six weeks he tells us) out on the main Park Stage, who probably pulled the biggest crowd of the day. Mayer is the sort of laid back artist whose catalogue doesn’t always do justice to his live show, which belies a huge talent on the six-string.  He ambles through some of his biggest hits like ‘No Such Thing’; ‘Gravity’ and Queen of California’ before taking it down for a moving ‘Paper Doll’ and one of the best  Van Morrison covers I’ve heard in his version of ‘And It Stoned Me’. It’s a set of sometimes stormy countrified West Coast Blues that is exactly what the assembled masses wanted to hear. He may not be the most endearing musician off stage, but live on stage he knows exactly what the crowd wants.


What the Big Top needed was a party and it was brought along with a real ‘loved-up’ vibe by Edward Sharpe and the Magnetic Zeros who flooded the stage. Band and main man himself threw themselves (literally in the case of Alex) into proceedings. To see a band like that control the crowd with such conviction and mastery was one of the highlights of the day, even more so when I had previously only had a passing acquaintance with their music. With material like ‘Man on Fire’ (which opened) and ‘40 day Dream’ he’s welcome back any time.


Impossibly massive at home in the US -  The Matthews Band surprised many when announced as 2014’s headliner but with a catalogue like theirs the two hour set just leaves most of the crowd begging for more. Filling the set with the best songs from a 23 year career they may not be as long-lived as The Doobies but there’s every reason to believe that they will be as enduing.


The set is as slick as recent visitor Springsteen’s, and you can imagine that without the curfew it could be just as long, but starting with their best known song ‘Ants Marching’ surprises a few. There are some great anecdotes about his trip to Rottnest on a ‘ladies bicycle’ and highlights are many but for us ‘The Space Between’ took the honours.


Over in the tent Michael Franti continued the party and again was quickly into the crowd with his high energy set pumping the crowd to the extent that when he jumped out there the crowd decided to take to the stage. It was an odd way to end the night but somehow fitting and a rather cool way to end it all.
Blues and Roots 2014 proved that the next ten years should be just as much fun as the first.

 

 

Words and Images by Mark Diggins April 2014

 

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