Blues gig last night! Long-anticipated, a real Chicago Blues band, in our little town on the South Coast of Western Australia.
The warm-up act was a local guy called Moondog who’s been couch-surfing in the US for months every year, for the last ten years. He was very competent with his guitar, harmonica and stomp box. The themes were rather stereotypical – I lost my baby, I got a baby etc, various odes to sex and alcohol, and he had a song called I Mixed Me A Drink which he wanted everyone to sing the chorus to but that felt too much like church to us! Blues has a funny way of making even trite things someone is complaining about sound ultra-significant. Sort of like opera. You could write a song about how bad your potatoes are and you’d have people crying in the audience.
The basic blues guitar sound is very pleasant, and the harmonica is rather atmospheric. It’s fun to go to a gig like that once in a while, but I have a feeling I’d go mad if I listened to blues night after night, because it’s a bit limited thematically, and a bit howling-at-the-moon. It’d be like eating nothing but Spaghetti Bolognese every evening.
A sort of master of ceremonies appeared and gave a long alcohol-soaked speech during which he lapsed into actual tears several times while mentioning various blues musicians. I recognised him from work way back; he’d been a chaplain at one of the local schools. Back then he had collected applause for God, now he was staggering around emoting and asking us to clap at the mere mention of various names of people not present who were apparently blues legends. He was at that stage of progression through a large number of beer bottles where people get maudlin and cry everywhere, and I was glad when he finally stopped talking and let the musicians do their thing.
The main act was The Original Chicago Blues All-Stars, and they were excellent. Their drummer got ill and couldn’t make the trip, so they had a young Perth drummer they introduced as Tyler standing in for the tour, and he’d not rehearsed with them, but did a seamless job, looking incredibly focused. Other than that, they had one bass player and three guitarists. The bass player, Freddie Dixon, was a very cool cat, a total no-nonsense musician who just stood there and sang like he was born to do just that. He had a particularly lovely, large, curvy red bass with two sound holes shaped very much like the f-holes on a violin, and his playing sounded very like the style you often hear on double bass. He sang us a song about “not being superstitious, but a black cat just crossed my path” – much more thematic variation than the support act – as well as some blues standards written by his father, Willie Dixon.
After the bass guitarist had finished his couple of songs, he passed on to a lanky character who called himself Root Doc, and who sang a song that wasn’t all that different from Led Zeppelin’s Lemon Song in subject matter – and now I wonder which was first… Our eyebrows nearly climbed up over our heads when we looked sideways at each other during that one. There was a comedic element as he started describing the love interest’s breasts and playing deliberately ridiculous, sustained high notes on his guitar as his voice climbed higher and higher until he was shrieking incoherently. A bit after that he also sang us a song about a 500-year-old Jarrah tree, which is a West Australian tree, and he said he’d written it especially for the gig (they must have come through Pemberton way…). Later on he did an extremely funny number about meeting a girl on the Internet. He was deliberately hamming everything up, in contrast to the very grounded Freddie Dixon.
I had difficulty in the first half of the show working out who played what, with the three guitarists all playing at the same time. Two of them were doing lead type guitar, and their instruments had very distinctive voices, which combined with the finger patterns usually made things clear pretty quickly. But, the guy standing between them (name of Bob Lassandrello and the club owner back home) was doing a lot of rhythm guitar, and for a long time I really couldn’t hear what he was doing at all – it was like he wasn’t there, even though he clearly was playing – maybe my brain can only process a maximum of one bass and two guitars, in any given band. After the interval, I finally heard him, because he was doing lead guitar for a bit!
Their young guitarist, name of Michael Damani, early 20s, was fantastic – they all were, but the rest of them were over twice his age, and this young guy looked as if he was completely lost in the music and in a perpetual state of reverie, from which he occasionally emerged to make eye contact with the audience.
These guys played blues, explained a few things about the music, and after the interval, got quite funky, so much so that they ended up having people dancing in front of the stage for the last half hour of the three-hour gig. We were in the front row, and as more people arrived to dance, we ended up shifting backwards from all the wiggling! Brett uncharitably told me he wished for a large trapdoor to make them all disappear, so we could see the musicians doing their thing again. It was nearing 11pm, we’d been awake since 5.30am, and the music was starting to settle on us like a heavy quilt, so we snuck out during the dance encore, but it had been a really interesting night out.
This is a band well worth catching if they’re ever touring in other people’s local areas. Here’s a clip I found on YouTube with Freddie Dixon singing, Root Doc on the left, and young Michael Damani on the right!