Thursday, April 20, 2006

I Met the Blues

My arms just above the elbow have that lovely bruised feeling which makes it impossible to rest them on anything today. This means one thing.

Yes, folks. I was on the rail last night.

After enduring the trials of mid-stadium obscurity at the Stones and stuck in a back corner at Daniel Lanois, last night I came home. Interestingly, the sound for Robert Cray was what you expect that close to the stage, pretty tinny and echo-y. You accept that for the pleasure and privilege of being so close to the people you've come to see. But the sound for Buddy Guy in exactly the same spot was rich and glorious.

The crowd was big and mixed, from the crusty old blues guys to young hispters in Hendrix shirts to ... me. Quite a number of young teenagers there too, a boy who looked about 14 was next to me on the rail. In a Led Zep t-shirt and clutching a Terrance Dicks Doctor Who novel, he was like the little brother I never had. Twice Buddy came up and personally gave him his guitar pick, which was great -- even if I was hoping he was headed this way to give it to me. ;-)

Robert Cray and band opened the show. Cray, if you don't know, is a super guitarist, exciting soul/blues singer and about 37 different shades of utterly hot. I don't think most of his original songs are quite classics but he played a couple of my favourites "Strong Persuader" and "Phone Booth". Some chick kept shrieking for "Mr Cray" to do "Foul Play" which alas he did not. He has his guitars slung quite high and the microphone was set quite low, so he leaned into it in a way that seemed awkward to me at first but accentuated the genuine emotion on his face while singing and playing.

Do not ask me about his guitars, he had about eight different ones, all Fenders and all very shiny but maybe some guitar geek will turn up in comments with the deets. "Strong Persuader" was the funky centre of the set and special mention of Jim Pugh on organ who let rip with some mighty solos. Next up for Robert and the boys is Melbourne tonight, then NZ and then touring with Eric Clapton.

The tough thing for Robbie is that no matter how good-unbelievable-transcendant-awesome you are ... it's just that, Buddy Guy is on next and there's not much competing with that. In my Buddy post below there is some chat about aspects of Buddy's act termed "goofing off." If you google for show reviews (or see Wikipedia -- Heh. "The neutrality of this article is disputed" -- Flop Eared Mule's new motto) you'll see talk of playing some of the show from the theatre bath room, playing with teeth, comic stop-starting of songs and general all round mugging and tomfoolery. The complaint is that this mucking about replaces the real music. Perhaps the awesome influence of F.E.M is such Buddy cut us a break or maybe my definition of goofing is different or maybe ... whatever.

Whatever. Awesome Spine Tingling Life Changing Jaw Drop Making Deity Praising Just To Be Allowed To Be Here Blues: 100% Distracting Larking: 0%

OK, yes he played the guitar with his teeth once, with a drumstick, with the front of his shirt, one handed, under handed but for only seconds at a time and if you closed your eyes it sounded like awesome blues to me. He certainly engaged the crowd, I laughed alot. And some showboating went on but I don't see any of that as inconsistent with the tradition he's from, the natural instincts of a performer and the oft-expressed blues desire to have a good time.

How can you be singing "Love Her With a Feeling" and not be having a damn good time?

As if you would close your eyes, though, when Buddy Guy is a freakin' foot away playing "Hoochie Coochie Man." There was one part where the lights went down except for one on Buddy and he picked out a classic blues riff. He's wearing a garish polka dot shirt and clutching a polka dotted guitar but for a few seconds in that soft white light he looked young and like the old footage you see of bluesmen from the 40s and 50s. I shivered.

He did his traditional walk through of the theatre, right through the stage floor, into the foyer and up into the mezzanine level. Again, this could be gimmicky but while he's doing this he's also pounding out a phenomenal Muddy Waters song. The second guitarist was playing rhythm back on stage so that was all Buddy and it was exhilirating music first, and happened to be giving the crowd a huge thrill at the same time. From the stage a number of times he told us we were here to hear the real blues, and the crowd roared its approval. There were any number of heart breaking riffs and exhilirating Buddy Guy guitar explosions. Hightlights which still have me buzzing would be "Hoochie Coochie Man", a sublime "Fever" and the infectious "Damn Right I've Got the Blues" and "Someone Else is Slippin' In." Paying tribute to the influence of John Lee Hooker, the opening of "Boom Boom" just about brought the joint down.

One of my best nights in a long time.

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