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West Coast Blues ‘N’ Roots


Fremantle Park

Sunday, April 13. 2015


It was a smaller event than 2013’s two day monster, but a no less well curated one, with a diverse array of elder statesmen and young guns on hand to conduct the crowd in a laid back, chilled out celebration of sound.

After some slide guitar wizardry from the undisputed heavyweight champion of the world, our own Dave Hole, Russell Morris took the main stage crowd on a blues-soaked history lesson with songs from his recent Sharkmouth and new Van Diemen’s Land albums, singing about Aussie characters and conditions that reflect on the quintessential meaning of what it is to be us. He’s obviously loving the well deserved career resurgence, treating the crowd like we were old mates sitting around his back yard having a bash as he recounted tales of mates in remote areas (The Birdsville Track), ‘30’s gangsters (Sharkmouth), or having ‘acid and mushroom’ and Stones Green Ginger Wine flashbacks to lead into his ‘60s psych hits The Real Thing and Hush. As he finished with a hit from the ‘70s – Sweet Sweet Love – he and his band were on fire in the midday sun and set the bar pretty damn high from the get go.

Jake Bugg is something of the young-man-of-the-moment, portraying excellent musical tastes – check the latest Rolling Stone for a look at his record collection – and a unique and individual way of channelling those influences into his own tunes. With a lot of heritage acts on the bill, he was the hot ticket item for much of the younger contingent and when he took to the stage of the Big Top it was more than tickets that were hot. While the Big Top provided shade, the packed tent also created humidity among the heaving throng, not that it lessened the audience reaction to the 20 year-old Nottinghamer, who tore through his Shangri La album. Highlights included Kentucky and There’s A Beast And We All Feel It, but it was he leaned into the hits such as Messed Up Kids and What Doesn’t Kill You, the love affair was guaranteed. With songs influenced by The Great British Songbook and by being very now to boot, Bugg won over fans old and new, in both senses of that phrase.

Morcheeba highlighted the diversity of the Festival with an excellent, chilled out set of smooth and light jazz-funk by way of late ‘90s trip-hop. Part Of The Process and Down By The Sea helped people get their dance on, while the pure pop of Shoulder Holster got a huge round of applause, the mellow grooves perfectly complementing the lazy Sunday arvo vibe.

Gary Clark, Jr.  is another wildly talented artist who refuses to be pigeonholed. Rock, blues, funk and soul are all part of his oeuvre, and there’s a Hendrix flair to his guitar playing. The man’s singing and playing were full of heart and passion, his face in turn screwed up in concentration, singing the notes of his solo, or just transcendent at the wondrous and ethereal power of the music. Playing much of his excellent latest album, Black & Blu, it was a great afternoon of fiery blues rock.

Steve Earle And The Dukes put the blues back into blues ‘n’ roots with a somber, seriously moving set. Earle is a man who has walked many a mile of bad road and his work reflects that. However, the often depressingly dark subject matter is leavened by his dry, self-deprecating humour and his earnest desire to communicate, and his many fans who packed into the sweltering Big Top hung on his every word.

It’s hard to reconcile the young, fragile Matt Corby that graced Australian Idol those years ago with the centred and commanding bloke that plays onstage these days. Like Jake Bugg – but from a different angle – he appeals to young and old and his set on the Park Stage did just that on this day. The heat was beginning to subside and Corby’s music brought with it a cool change, whether it was the consuming Brother or the emotive lilt of Song For Interlude. Amongst the whispers and explosions, a cover of Eric Clapton’s After Midnight was both a sage choice and a nice touch.

The Doobie Brothers were clearly a crowd favourite, drawing huge cheers of appreciation from the second they launched their set of good time old school boogie with the classic Jesus Is Just Alright. Lead singer Tom Johnston had the punters in the palm of his hand and his led the band through a hit-heavy suite of songs, incorporating  Long Train Runnin’, What A Fool Believes and more. A couple of famous faces at side of stage (hi Elvis!) reinforced the fact that this band is flat-out beloved.

Elvis Costello And The Impostors wasted no time, hitting the ground running with a hit-packed set that was the highlight of the day for many. From Pump It Up to Oliver’s Army, Watching The Detectives to Every Day I Write The Book, they couldn’t put a foot wrong. On a low note, what should have been a moving tribute to a recently passed songwriter friend was blunted by the sound bleeding from Boy And Bear’s set on the other stage. All we heard was ‘Jesse’ someone, who we later discovered was Jesse Winchester. Midnite Bus and Payday are cool additions to the set, before (I Don’t Want To) Go To Chelsea, Hank Williams’ Why Don’t You Love Me Like You Used To and the always excellent (What’s So Funny Bout) Peace Love And Understanding finished the set on a high note. On a day full of great music, The Imposters pretty much took the prize.

It was John Mayer’s second appearance at West Coast Blues N’ Roots, the last being in 2007 when he attended with then-partner Jessica Simpson and much of the focus on him seemed to be for that reason alone. Famous girlfriends aside – and the fact that Katy Perry stayed in the US – Mayer showcased why he is so highly considered as a musician. His guitar work was ranged from complex trills to minimal beauty and his voice has a quality that is indeed enamouring. A lot of his material is pretty middle-of-the-road though, so there were a few beige spots in his set. However when his best known songs (Queen Of California, Your Body Is A Wonderland, Waiting On The World To Change) were aired, he melted hearts.

The magnificent Erykah Badu delivered what was easily the most experimental set of the day, leaping from genre to genre with effortless grace and aplomb. A majestic, almost ethereal figure swathed in white, she was nevertheless a warm and gracious  host, teasing her sister for buying a Doobie Brothers album at age five and dedicating her incredible rendition of Liberation to Andre Benjamin.

Michael Franti And Spearhead wrapped things up in the Big Top, the former Disposable Hero exhorting the crowd to put their hands in the air as they tore through an epic 90-minute set. The highlights here were plenty, but it’s hard to go past their thundering cover of INXS’s Don’t Change, for which they recruited some help from the crowd.

This was the first Dave Matthews Band show in WA and he has only toured Australia once before in 2011 – it appears there is a reason for this. While his popularity exceeds that of the likes of U2 in many parts of the US, he mainly seems to be an American phenomenon – and in Australia he is best known for being famous in America. From the moment he and his extensive band kicked off with Ants Marching, the polish on the  performance was impressive from the get-go, however Matthews himself isn’t that engaging as a performer and by the time he stated that following a visit to Rottnest he found the quokkas  to “be as dumb as chickens,” and alluding to how many people had walked away, it seemed to only increase that very scenario. Even so, the faithful were thrilled by the likes of Crash Into Me, Grey Street and The Space Between and would no doubt return in a heartbeat if Dave Matthews hit Perth again on a headline tour.


Photos by Rachael Barrett

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