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
Sunday 28 March, Fremantle Park

 

It’s a beautiful sunny Autumn day, not a cloud in the sky and around 28 degrees and as we wander into the new venue (moved this year from The Esplanade) and make our way through the crowd to find friends we check out a few songs by main stage early player DAN SULTAN. His smoky and bluesy voice is a perfect fit for this festival and we all agree we’d like to hear more next time, but for now, the Big Top Stage beckons.

 

Only at a festival this big can we get treated to one of the world’s best slide guitarists so early in the day (12:30). DAVE HOLE, local guy made good, has been lauded throughout the world as one of the finest proponents of slide guitar ever, and man can the boy play.

 

Dave Hole - incendiary!

 

‘Every Girl I See’ and an absolute crackerjack interpretation of Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’ saw sparks flying at lunchtime and set a dangerously high bar for all the acts to follow.

 

 

“We tune because we care”, said Dave as the band adjust their instruments, and rock into ‘Demolition Man’. The entire set is incendiary – the crystal clear squeal of Hole’s slide playing a joy to behold and nothing comes close to this set for the next few hours. We’re lucky enough to meet the man shortly after and get an autograph and photo, and a nicer dude you’ll never meet.

 

Dave Hole with Trulie Rockpit

 

After Dave is finished we sidestep to the smaller Market Stage to see a throng bouncing along to the tail end of hyper-energetic local crew THE JOE KINGS. A Joe Key name for sure (sorry!), but their music is impassioned and feisty and they hold nothing back on the stage. Closing with a fiery and fun take on Steppenwolf’s ‘Magic Carpet Ride’, featuring band intro’s, some explosive guitar work and a thrilling climax, we decide that we will definitely have to see these guys at one of their own gigs very soon.

 

The Joe Kings

 

The absence of local blues queen Abbe May is a shame, but there’s no shortage of classy and exciting acts on show today, including the surprise of the day for us, THE SWELL SEASON. Just one dude and an acoustic guitar for the few songs we caught, Glen Hansard packs such raw emotion into his singing and playing that it is almost acoustic metal at some points. Their Oscar winning ‘Falling Slowly’ was a magical moment, and we hear Pixies frontman Francis Black/Black Francis joined them onstage for set closer ‘Where Is My Mind?’. Hansard’s voice draws comparisons to early Van Morrison or Cat Stevens, and we feel unexpectedly rocked and we will be checking out a CD very soon.

 

RED SHOES BOY are all over the Market Stage, making it their own with a confident and rousing selection of bluesy originals. “The Blues” is so often used as a catch-all for many different styles of music, but RSB play a relatively pure style of rocking blues today (I was reminded of Canned Heat meet Creedence) and play it well.

 

The Red Shoes Band

 

We’re excited to be discovering some new music like this, as well as seeing some tried and tested legends a little while later!

 

The main stage is stomping to the acoustic rootsy folk-rock of Newton Faulkner. All ginger dreads, throbbing acoustic guitar, and a lovely voice reminiscent of early Police-era Sting, he engages the crowd well but we are left wondering why the volume on this stage is set so low. Are they saving it for the later acts? Faulkner does some singalongs (“your motivation for joining in is that you’re all pirates – pirates with rabies”) and startles with an acoustic folk rendition of Queen’s ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. He admits it took him 6 months to work this up, and openly admits from the stage that it could be “a really great idea or a really bad idea”.

 

He has great stage presence and a fine sense of humour, but it lets him down on this song when he plays it too hard for laughs during the operatic mid section. We declare it a good idea that fell short of the mark, but You Tube it yourself and make your own minds up – a lot of the crowd seemed to enjoy it, but then, throughout the day it seemed a lot of the crowd laying on their picnic blankets in front of the main stage would have applauded just about anything. Any one man with one guitar is going to sound samey after a while!

 

TJ’s 2 cents worth is that any song so iconic should be left well alone: the definitive version has been recorded and any future attempt will inevitably sound inferior, thus why attempt a suicide mission. I think it wasn’t up there with Celine Dion’s ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ as worst cover of all time… but it wasn’t great.

 

We struggled through the masses to the Theatre Tent, traversing huge and hugely frustrating bar and food and toilet queues, and arrived just in time for the start of JOHN MAYALL’s set. Looking like your favourite hipster grandad, Mayall took the stage for a solo song before introducing his razor sharp band and launching into “John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers” album classic ‘All Your Love’.

 

Multi-intrumentalist Mayall is ably backed up by the whole band, especially the scorching guitar work of Texan Rocky Athas. His world weary bluesy rasp is worth its weight in gold on ‘Chicago Lines’, also featuring some tasty blues harp.

 

The crowd is strangely sedate early on and whoever put all the seats in this tent should be shot for killing the atmosphere and restricting the numbers able to get in to see the great man. ‘Nothing to Do With Love’ from latest album “Tough” shows there’s still life in the old dog, and ‘For The Rest Of my Life’ starts to get the crowd involved.

 

Mayall’s been giving fantastic guitarists a chance to shine since the Clapton days and Athas is no exception, tearing it up song after song. The whole band, in fact, are great, and are obviously loving playing – none more so than Mayall himself – and it’s a testament to their chops that they win over the quiet, mostly seated crowd with a great slab of pure blues rock.

 

It’s easy to see where hard rock and metal grew from when listening to old masters like Mayall, so maximum respect is due to him and his generation. ‘I had a dream about the blues’ and ‘Room to Move’ close the show in fine style.

 

 

FESTIVAL BITCH # 1

I must be getting old, but I just don’t see the appeal of 4 or 5 different stages all featuring similar styled acts. I mean, it’s hard enough to up stumps and wander through 20,000 people crammed into a far-too-small area (the bottlenecks between stages were infuriating to say the least), but why have John Mayall and Taj Mahal crossover for ten minutes? Then Taj and Buddy Guy played at the same time on different stages for twenty minutes… How does one choose between legends? At least Soundwave Festival do it right and mostly have different styles of music on different stages so conflicts are minimised – this is just annoying.

 

 

The crowd is a mixture of 20-something dread heads, 30-40 ish old rockers, and a smattering of older hipsters and gran-cougars out on the prowl. We scoot away before the end of Mayall’s set in order to catch the start of TAJ MAHAL in the Big Top.

 

“I’ll tell you a little secret”, Taj tells us conspiratorially, “the blues don’t have to be sad to be good!” and he is right – he strikes a big and imposing figure up high on stage, and he plays a joyful, positive, uplifting set full of cheering guitar and dancing tunes.

 

“It’s real easy – just move from side to side”, and that’s what the whole crowd did. This is blues to make you sing, to make you dance, and – most importantly – to make you damned happy to be alive, none more so than on ‘Blues With A Feeling’.

 

We took a moment to reflect - 3 blues legends back to back, despite the annoying set conflicts that’s still stellar! We got to the main stage in time for the arresting sight of a 73 year old man dressed head to toe in a tracksuit, of all things, and BUDDY GUY wasted no time showing what he is made of – pure molten blues!

 

‘Hoochie Koochie Man’ saw him shredding searing hot solos from his trademark Telecaster, and Buddy’s second guitarist, Cornelius Hall, deserves maximum respect for not only having the balls to stand up there next to the big man, but whose guitar work holds it’s own next to Guy’s.

 

Buddy Guy - legend!

 

 

FESTIVAL BITCH # 2

The problem seeing a legend on the main stage is all the casual listeners who are more interested in catching up on the latest gossip – I wish they’d just shut the f*ck up and show some bloody respect: not only to Buddy Guy, a true guitar legend, but also to the rest of the people who are actually there to listen! If anything the main stage sound is the same volume as earlier – which is way too quiet: the chitter-chatter of the idiots all but drowns out the mellower parts of the songs.

 

 

 

Buddy plays his telecaster with a drumstick, with his sweat towel, behind his back – he pulls out just about every trick in the book and when he hits up Cream’s ‘Sunshine of your love’ he is ON FIRE!

 

 

JOHN BUTLER has a brand new TRIO and a brand new album called “April Uprising”, and he features a lot from this album today despite it only being released 2 days hence. Looking like a spunky catweazel in a narrow-brimmed fedora, he straps on a banjo for ‘Better of You’ and proceeds to play a selection of the latest album with a smattering of his older favourites.

 

John Butler

 

Apologies in advance for this - I know it’s sacrilegious and paramount to spitting at your grannie (especially here in Freo where JB got his start busking) to be anything other than in thrall to the cult of JB… but I’m not. I find his music a tad dull for my taste – all that finger picking does sound the same after a (short) while, and lyrically, well there’s only so many songs about the plight of the single parent whales who live in the rainforest campaigning for a greener world that I can sit through.

 

The faithful love it, of course, even though the volume is still set at a level more appropriate to a middle aged family living in a townhouse, not wanting to annoy the neighbours, and even though most of them don’t know the new music. But no hate mail please – JB can play well, and I do love the occasional song like ‘Zebra’ where he stops preaching, lets go and actually sounds like he is having fun with the music for it’s own sake. This song, slinky and funky, really gels and is a highlight of the day as twilight creeps in, and gets the crowd on their feet, dancing finally, but overall this set is just too mainstream and ho hum for my taste – over-rehearsed and over-rated.

 

JEFF BECK is as enigmatic a presence as ever, cravat in place, and looking more like ex-Stone Bill Wyman these days than his younger Faces-styled spiky barnet days. He plays like a wizard, but throughout he barely engages the crowd at all, so despite some amazing technical licks, a good show is never allowed to become a great one.

 

Jeff Beck & Rhonda Smith

 

Just as we could see the hard rock roots showing through John Mayall’s set, we see how Jeff Beck was playing an early form of proto-metal way back when your Metallica’s and so forth were still a glint in their milkmen’s eyes. If nothing else this festival was worth the entry price just to see the origins of the music we love so much today.

 

Another fiery solo

 

Featuring an instrumental ‘Over the Rainbow’ (as appears on new album “Emotion and Commotion) and The Beatles’ ‘A Day In The Life’ was incredible, but it wastheir rendition of Sly Stone’s ‘I Want To Take You higher’ (one of the few songs with vocals in the set) which showed some real energy and engaged the throng, largely due to bassist Rhonda Smith’s slap playing and singing (she tours with Prince so is at the top of her game). There’s no denying the quality on offer here, it’d just have been nice had it been more of a show.

 

CROWDED HOUSE were a terrible disappointment to many. On the main stage the sound was still insipid and the crowd noise still rose above the mellower musical passages. Sure, the Mums and Dads loved the family friendly AOR vibe and sung along to all the hits you’d expect (‘The World Where You Live’, ‘Don’t Dream It’s over’, ‘Four Seasons In One Day’ and so on), but compared to Dave Hole, John Mayall & Buddy Guy there was no fire, no passion, no spontaneity.

 

An overly mellow Crowded House

 

It was all too much for us and we deigned to depart and head for the train station before GOGOL BORDELLO hit the stage, which in hindsight was a shame as we heard nothing but good things about their New York-by way of Romania gypsy folk punk.


In summary, Dave Hole and John Mayall are the acts of the day for us – fun, vibrant, energetic and smoking! We were excitedly surprised by both The Joe Kings & The Swell Season, and greatly enjoyed Buddy Guy’s performance, despite having trouble hearing him at times.

 

The main stage volume was way too low, the crowd far too dense, the food and bar and toilet queues way too long – but most of these things we reluctantly accept are par for the course at most festivals.

 

Would we do it again? With a line-up like this, how could we not! Next time we may bring provisions to last the day though!

 

 

Shane Rockpit

Additional words, Trulie Rockpit