Sunday, October 13, 2013

Byron Bay 2013

Yes, a little late with this one, in line with this year's review of last year. Tradition now... 

Firstly thanks to Old Mate Len who provided much needed dot points, comments, prompters and information to assist recollection. Following Bluesfest, the subsequent trip to Bangkok and Turkey and back to Bangkok has blurred the memory of the acts somewhat...

The accommodation was provided by the bountiful and effervescent Michelle in her 5 star condominium at Kingscliff, for which we were all thankful.
The usual gang attended, Michelle, Niki, Lynelle, Toni, Len, Dr Pat and myself and we all enjoyed various acts with some preferences, but here's the rub, I'm unable to say who preferred which acts, apart from Len. Similarly my own family were there and although arrangements were made to provide reviews none have been forthcoming. None!! So, I'll start with the acts which I found most appealing and we'll see where that leads. Thankfully Len's notes will come in very handy, but where did the notes come from? I don't remember him writing or noting them down... so, I can only assume that he tucked them away in the sparkling caverns of his orderly cranium. I have no idea. A heavy duty enigma is LJ.

Firstly, for me numero uno - Paul Simon.
Yes, the old trouper did it for me with his wonderfully melodic songs, honed lyrics and harmonic textures. Here was an artist who had an Everley Brothers styled duo with Garfunkel called Tom and Jerry (yes Tom and Jerry!!!) in the 50s, and had written Sounds of Silence in 1964, while performing solo in the UK folk clubs. Now, in his solo career, post Garfunkel, post Graceland he continues to issue the highest quality albums – his recent So Beautiful, So What being lauded by critics as his best since Graceland. The performance of the title track at the Bluesfest was a highlight for me. His band was superb, so musical – I know it's a strange thing to say but this band has more musicality, and muscularity, than most, and it can rock! Check out his DVD Paul Simon Live in New York City.

So Beautiful? You Tube clip

Over to Len:
  • Mojo tent was beyond capacity, crowds pouring out of the sides of the venue fighting for a view of the legend.
  • His set, which he wanted to be a "dance party", featured no less than three encores and was accompanied by an eight piece band.
  • Featured songs from the legendary album Graceland (which recently celebrated its 25th anniversary, reportedly with the backing band featuring many members who have been touring with him since its release.
  • In addition, Simon embraced a couple of his most loved tracks sans Garfunkel, "The Sound of Silence" and set closer "The Boxer" and of course a cross section of the rest of his career, including the popular "Still Crazy After All These Years".
  • Opening with his characteristic African-infused folk rock sound showcased the extraordinary array of musicians who make up his band; many members who are virtuoso players of multiple instruments.
  • The layered sounds coming from his band added a sophisticated texture to Simon’s soothing poetic lyrics and humble guitar solos.
  • By the end there was passionate and unrelenting cheering from the audience; an effort that rewarded them three encores – in which he played many more of his timeless songs.
Set List
  • Gumboots
  • 50 Ways to Leave Your Lover
  • Me and Julio Down by the Schoolyard
  • That Was Your Mother
  • Slip Slidin' Away (Tribute to Phil Ramone)
  • My Little Town (Simon & Garfunkel song)
  • The Obvious Child
  • Crazy Love, Vol. II
  • Diamonds on the Soles of Her Shoes
  • So Beautiful or So What
  • Late in the Evening
  • Encore:
  • The Sound of Silence (Solo Acoustic)
  • (Simon & Garfunkel song)
  • Kodachrome / Gone at Last
  • You Can Call Me Al
  • Encore 2:
  • Graceland
  • Unkown Group Song
  • Still Crazy After All These Years
  • Encore 3:
  • The Boxer (Simon & Garfunkel song)

In second spot could have been Jimmy Cliff, Robert Cray, Manu Chao or the Grand Wizard himself, Robert Plant, so we'll go with 'little Robert' (who 'only wants to come and play'... heh heh - quote How Many More Times – Led Zep). Since Led Zeppelin Plant has kept himself artistically alive and well by his eclectic approach, his reverence for trad roots styles and his wizardry. Yup he is known to conjure the afternoon muse in pipe and slippers and just blow rings and lyrics,  just     blow    rings   and lyrics    man. His recent Band Of Joy album produced by the ubiquitous T Bone Burnett embraced country music, as did the prior collaboration with Alison Krauss. The 2005 Mighty ReArranger utilized African, specifically Malian blues and was for me better than much of Zeppelin's material being less declamatory, bombastic. All were financially and artistically successful. It's great to see these long established artists stay relevant – people like Plant and Simon, Leonard Cohen – a fabulous concert two years back – Richard Thompson, Dylan, Bruce Cockburn, many with old folk credentials. Check the You Tube of Shine it All Around from the Great ReArranger:

Over to you Len:

  • Robert Plant is a living legend and Fans packed out the Mojo tent to experience his latest project ‘Robert Plant Presents Sensational Space Shifters’
  • The career of the lead man of rock icon Led Zeppelin has been marked by non-stop evolution and he’s not done yet
  • electrifying set by Robert Plant
  • Moving between pulsating rock sections to calmer grooves, Plant managed to fit in a great deal of Led Zeppelin tracks to the crowd’s delight
  • Plant’s acknowledgment of the faithful was not the traditional songs but a patented future-primative groove that moved these songs to greater heights.
  • For example, Whole Lot Of Love was embedded with chugging African drums.
  • Plant showed off those high reaching vocals of his that are so highly revered
  • The seven-piece band was a force of its own, producing a big rock sound that draws from elements of blues and roots music.
  • To one side of the stage we have Juldeh Camara working a Gambian wooden banjo, on the other side keyboardist John Baggott (ex Massive Attack) sits in a nest of snths and laptops.
  • Led Zeppelin classics like ‘Black Dog’ found a new life with the distinctive sound of a ritti (one-stringed African Violin) and other exotic string instruments, creating an Africana/rockabilly fusion.
  • A maestro of rock, he conducted his audience and they responded to every gesture.
  • The backdrop, featuring the ‘60s-style psychedelic album cover art, combined with a triumphant lighting display and gave this Bluesfest headline set the full rock treatment.
  • Plant honoured his teenage love of the blues as the drive behind this latest incarnation. In a tribute to hero Howlin’ Wolf, he performed an impressive cover of the blues classic ‘Spoonful’.

Set List
  • Friends (Led Zeppelin song)
  • Tin Pan Valley
  • Another Tribe
  • Black Dog (Led Zeppelin song)
  • Spoonful (Howlin’ Wolf cover)
  • Going to California (Led Zeppelin song)
  • The Enchanter
  • What Is and What Should Never Be (Led Zeppelin song) Heartbreaker (Led Zeppelin song)
  • Four Sticks (Led Zeppelin song)
  • Funny in My Mind (I Believe I'm Fixin' to Die)
  • Whole Lotta Love (Led Zeppelin song)
  • Encore:
  • Bron Y Aur Stomp (Led Zeppelin song)
Rock and Roll

Manu Chao

Manu Chao, the Spanish/French singer based in Paris was a surprise for me. Ok I have some of his Cds, Best of, Clandestino and La Radiolina, and he can be quietly folkie – too folkie I thought for a closing act. BUT he blew the roof off the marquee with his energy level: The dance was sooo up front and vibrant, the lighting appropriately zipping all over, the electronica sounds like flying sirens and his band was manic. He was my daughter Cara's favourite performer, along with Hat Fitz and her namesake Cara. I think the audience didn't really know what to expect and he wowed us.

Robert Cray Band

Robert Cray was a knockout. We'd seen him before some years ago at Bluesfest I think but at the back of my mind I had put him down as quality blues but too smooth. When your point of reference, your barometer is the Wolf, Elmore, Hooker, Muddy and Walter your gauge is how well the person measures against those guys. So, I wasn't expecting earthy sparks - which is what I got!! The Man has presence and delivery and his songs were great. He'd been to the Crossroads, made bacon and eggs for the old hoary goat with the red eyes. Or my previous opinion was askew. I know, it can happen, too much fruit pulp. This Paris concert recorded You Tube is the closest I could find to my remembered experience and if you have a pair of 3D glasses, use them:

Jimmy Cliff

Another who was much better than I had imagined. His voice is still superb and he has a mile more energy than yer average stoned Rastafari. Many rivers to cross, well maybe I have with that comment, and I retract it unreservedly. Who would say that they are always stoned, not me. 

Jimmy's band and the recent foot tapping hit One More on Letterman:

Rufus Wainwright

Yet another performer who surprised me. We'd seen his sister Martha about 4 or 5 years ago at the Bluesfest – the most sensual and sexiest performer on the planet. Of course with their lineage from folk aristocracy, the McGarrigle sisters, Anna and Kate and Loudon Wainwright 111, you wouldn't expect less – well not both sisters and Loudon ha ha. Sadly Rufus and Martha's mother Kate died in 2011.

Rufus like his sister has a great expressive delivery and he writes dramatic songs to suit his delivery. Check this solo performance:

To hear Kate and Anna's great harmonies in a song covered also by another folk scion sadly departed, Kirsty McColl, Complaint Pour Ste Catherine, check this, from the 70s I think – ahhh they were magnifique:

Martha's stunning elegiacal version of Kate, her mother's song Proserpina is here:

Father Loudon Wainwright is here with his 'only' hit, Dead Skunk in the Middle of the Road:

Loudon's more recent blues styled Older Than My Old Man Now, with Martha on backing vocals is here:

Hat Fitz and Cara Robinson

Hat has always been a sort of weather vane/barometer for Bluesfest, if Hat's doing well, so is Bluesfest. I know.... skewed logic, untested you might say, an urban myth, total bollocks, but WTF. I'll stick with it. He was the first act up, Lynelle and I sat in the Cavanbah waiting for their version of Blind Willie McTell's Deliah (they must have done it before we arrived.... - a great cover), and I later saw him with my daughter (also) Cara who was entranced by them, and Len and I caught the third show from outside – it was chockers. All very good.

He has been with his wife/partner Cara for a few years now and the former demented angst ridden blues bellower with the rolling eyes has segued into a more sophisticated albeit still earthy performer. Cara adds her superb voice, flute, whistle and various percussion. Their songs now incorporate gospel, blues ballads, the occasional Irish flavoured instrumental, and early Oz poetry as in the recent 'Company Underground, an adaption of 'For The Company Underground' by Francis MacNamara aka Frank The Poet.

Hat's audience dialogue, always a basic medium 'You'll notice I don't talk much, that's cos I've got fuck all to say', has been enriched by Cara's Irish blarney, and you can now hear some banter eg.
Cara: ' I don't know what he's going to do next...'
Hat: 'Just for that I'll do one about me ex'
'He's got a whole album of them...'
'She thinks it's all the same one. This is called Hold My Hand. I came home an all me gear's on the front lawn so I went round to me mate's place, sat on the vernadah and wrote this.'

Unfortunately I was unable to find Deliah but some good ones here with Cara:

For glimpse of the old manic Hat who 'must 'ave a twist in me neck'  with lousy 'NSW Tamworth' strings, and telling Itchy to do a drum solo 'that's all you'll get out of him...', while he fixes the tuning, check the link below.

Tedeschi Trucks Band

Len's comments are below and I can add that, although I caught only the end numbers, – can't recall what happened, oh yes, I was at Seth Lakeman - didn't see the whole show but what I saw was excellent. As Len says 'adventurous', yes they incorporate blues, soul, funk, jazz with great vocals and amazing guitar. Love their 'Midnight in Harlem', must be one of the best soul tracks since the 70s. I think that if I'd seen the total show it might have made my top spot.

  • adventurous
  • great version of Steve Wonder's 'Up Tight'
  • Eleven great musicians pumped punchy horn lines, crisp vocal harmonies and some phenomenal guitar work
  • Susan Tedeschi and Derek Trucks wrought blues licks out of their guitars, sharing lead and rhythm work and throwing to their energetic support band for some of the most tremendous solos of the day.
  • Tedeschi is a formidable front woman.
  • New single ‘Made Up Mind’ proved a winner, but it was the Sly and the Family Stone cover ‘Sing A Simple Song,’ that brought one of those rare and indescribable “oh, hell yes” blues bliss moments to both crowd and players alike.
  • Incredible show, if you value blues music you must see this band

Check Derek's tasty intro and the attractive and talented Susan singing Midnight in Harlem:
Sweet Honey in the Rock

I recall that we found this group while moving from the closing song from Grace Potter & The Nocturnals, a fab cover of White Rabbit, and ambling towards the bluegrass harmonies of the Wilson Pickers' bush music (great name – play on soul maestro Wilson Pickett of course – may De Lawd rest his soul...). Anyway, the heavenly harmonies with no instrumental accompaniment ie accapella were, as Len says below, absolutely captivating.

The band has come from the folk tradition, and so you have the story with each song, together with the giving of a whole lotta lurve, and a fab feel good factor which I found lingers on forever, in fact I'm feeling it now just thinking about it. These ladies are so thoughtful that they have a sign language lady on the side, just for the lyrics. Now ya can be cynical but the musicality, the confluence, the balm and blessing of voices, is wondrous. Ya don't need attack and bad attitude bro. Think again eh? Imagine Def Leppard with a sign language person at the side. Yah, anything's possible. Big world eh bro? Yeah I know a deaf person can't hear the music but BUT they can feel the vibes, dropkick.

Len's verdict:

  • Perhaps my best new musical discovery of the day was the all-woman acappella ensemble Sweet Honey In The Rock, as they delivered an utterly captivating performance.
  • Celebrating their African-American heritage, Sweet Honey In The Rock sing songs that draw upon a range of influences including gospel, blues, reggae and jazz, to create breath-takingly beautiful music.
  • While songs including “Wade In The Water” made great use of their vocal talents, it was the ensemble’s cover of Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song” that evoked the best response from the crowd due to their truly unique recreation of the much loved number.

For a taste of those Sweet Honeys wading in the water go to

Joan Armatrading

I don't think I saw Joan at all – I was watching Jimmy Cliff, but Len obviously did and was transported and I'll attach his review here:

  • Showing improved stage presence & audience interaction from past performance
  • Joan Armatrading is possibly the closest concrete evidence we’ll ever have that God is a woman.
  • She told her Crossroads stage crowd to wave their arms; they waved their arms; She bid them to sing a chorus; they rivalled a gospel choir.
  • She changed gears mid-set from soulful crooning to electrifying, rock-spun blues and that moment, the very skies opened and soaked the whole festival.
  • Armatrading moved untethered and wireless around the stage, soloing on her holy collection of guitars, dancing and laughing with her band as though this were her lounge room.
  • Energy levels jumped when moved into her classic songs before danceable crowd favourite ‘Drop the Pilot’ closed the show.

Seth Lakeman

Seth knocked me out this year as he did last year. From Cornwall he is a top drawer on the current very lively UK folk festival scene, and watching and hearing his performance with band and interaction with the audience you understand why, yes you do. The audience was up and dancing WILDLY, and at one point I was asked by an aisle maiden to alight and go with her to the grove...
Fortunately for her the song finished.

Mavis Staples

Mmmm, I'm not sure that I saw Mavis but, but, had I seen her I would undoubtedly enjoyed her performance – I have seen her previously. Just looking at the schedule now and I see that Rufus Wainwright was on at the same time and that's where I must have been. Now, Len was there and enjoyed Mavis and the total experience and it seems that I missed a special show, so over to you Len:

  • Soul queen
  • Mavis Staples exudes a youthful vitality that is quite remarkable, especially after 63 years of performing.
  • The audience was instantaneous magnetised by her cherished, characteristic gospel-infused rhythm and blues style.
  • Mavis commands an audience like no other, and her positive affirmations have a hypnotic power that is transported to all those in her presence; “We’ve come to bring you joy, happiness and inspiration,” she said.
  • Her cover of The Band’s ‘The Weight’ sent the crowd into an ecstatic frenzy and was a poignant moment in the first half of her set.
  • Lead guitarist Rick Holmstrom played a sophisticated and soothing solo piece that worked to wind down the fired up crowd. Yet this relaxing feeling was only short-lived, as Mavis returned on stage to declare a big surprise: Bonny Raitt was about to join her for a guest appearance.
  • Bonnie and Mavis performed the hit song ‘Will The Circle Be Unbroken’ and this stellar rendition proved that their mutual admiration of each other is something that could never be broken.

Check out Mavis and Bonnie performing Will the Circle be Unbroken:

Check Mavis at the white House performing a funky Let Me Take You There for President Obama:

Bonnie Raitt
Yep, I'm almost certain I caught some of Bonnie, at some point. Ben Caplan was on at around the same time and I remember him but I think I saw some of BR's gig as well. This was the final day and that's my excuse. However, luckily we have Len's prodigious memory for detail to haul us through the murk:
  • Bonnie Raitt performed tracks from her entire career, after earlier popping in on with Mavis Staples
  • Hard to believe that Bonnie Raitt is 63 years old. She looks likes 20 years younger.
  • The thing that might give her away are those trademark poetic lyrics, clearly forged by experience and emotion you’d need a lifetime not only to write, but to perform with such sincerity.
  • Raitt wielded her guitar like a weapon, smiling and bantering with her band and popping solos left and right.
  • Her voice is something spectacular, it oozed like a blues-infused honey through the tent’s speakers and across the sea of enraptured punters gathered to see her. “You got one helluva country here, and such great music fans,” she announced
  • Raitt stamped Bluesfest with her smoky blend of blues, country and rock.
  • Raitt fans went away still singing ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’, so great was her rendition.

Trombone Shorty

I can say with almost 100% certitude that I saw and heard the rambunctious Trombone Shorty
and his band of noisy N'Awlins players. I've seen him previously - he's been here a number of times and he's popular, deservedly so. And I enjoy the loose N'Awlins rhythms, that seem to fall over themselves and Trombone has this in tubs. Now, I've just realised that Len has not produced a review of Trombone... So... you have it. Pick one which Len covered, ah yes, Alan Toussaint.

 Alan Toussaint

Len's succinct dot points are below, thankfully, and I can add that this was the first time I have seen the grand gentleman of N'Awlins who looked splendid in his green suit, checked shirt and blue tie - you'd think that his mum might have said at some point 'Alan, blue and green are seldom seen...' 
Notwithstanding the Legend's sense of sartorial splendour, his music and his demeanour suggest an elegance befitting his noble stature among the raggle taggle bad mother f***ing dangerous dude types of Cresecnt city musos who have more than a passing knowledge of the masonry and 
mortar of the city penitentiaries. Not so M. Toussaint. Over to you Len:

  • Mr Mardi Gras
  • Despite the massive names on the bill, elements of punk, pop, and every other kind of genre you can think of, it’s artists like Legendary R&B vocalist and pianist Allen Toussaint that really are the soul of Bluesfest.
  • The New Orleans R’n’B legend and his crack band were wonderful to watch, even for those who were not immediately familiar with his music.
  • He had the ever-increasing crowd in the Crossroads tent swinging their hips and stomping their feet to a parade of some of his best-known songs.
  • Dressed in a green suit and backed by a talented band, Toussaint showed that his fingers are as nimble as ever as his hands danced up and down the keys.
  • He also proved to be a true entertainer, standing up in the middle of ‘Mr Mardi Gras’ to throw gifts, including masks, beads and even a small umbrella, into the crowd. Before the song he proclaimed, “We’ve brought some of the Mardi Gras to you!”
  • With a career spanning almost 60 years, today Allen Toussaint showed that his influence on the R&B genre is still recognised and that his fans maintain a high level of appreciation and adoration for his talent.

Now, I think we've reached the end of this here production. Finally. Almost. I didn't mention Taj Mahal who gave a terrific performance, also Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite were hot damn and gave a hot damn rootsy performance of When the Levee Breaks, also Go Jane Go were as good as you'd expect from Kieran and Lucas Kane plus David Francey. Also I can't believe that I missed Santana - I was captivated by Robert Cray or Trombone Shorty. 
Well thanks again to Len and Michelle. 2014 looks good but I think we'll be in Spain. The final announcements? Some bets? Stones?  Oils? Johnny Winter? John Fogarty again? King Crimson?
Richard Thompson? The Saints? Nick Cave? Neville Brothers? Rod Stewart/Faces (sadly without Ronnie Lane RIP? ELP? 

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