Live Music + Gig Reviews

West Coast Blues’n’Roots Festival 2008 Day 2 @ Esplanade Reserve, Fremantle

16 March 2008

With 25 of the weekend’s 50 acts having already played their hearts out, it is no mean feat that a Hobo who used to lived on freight trains manages to steal the show before most people are out of bed.

But that is exactly what Seasick Steve does, armed with only a selection of self-customised guitars which have anywhere from one to six strings. Steve enraptures the mass of on looking Sunday drinkers with tales of hardship and woe seen through the tragicomic lens of hindsight, all woven into killer blues licks.
Needless to say, when he finishes his signature Doghouse Blues and finally slams his three string guitar into his amplifier and leaves the stage, the rapturous standing ovation stretching right back to the food vans is the stuff festivals are made of.

Next, on a slightly more refined, but none the less talented note Vusi Mahlasela is perhaps best described to the uninitiated as Desmond Tutu with an acoustic guitar and an equally discerning charm. Through joyful African rhythms and a powerful velvet laced voice, the seminal South African artist offers songs about injustice, the end of apartheid and human rights to a largely ignorant, but none the less respectful crowd.

The Beautiful Girls are deceptive. They are in fact male, and not particularly beautiful at all. They do however play Jack Johnson-tinged, reggae soaked melodies which, although instantly forgettable, still serve as a decent soundtrack to a sunny Sunday afternoon. Fooling them, Kasey Chambers cheers up the country loving contingent of the crowd with twangy tales of love loss and the outback, while on the big top stage, New Orleans based eclectic funk band Galactic provide start a high octane alternative.

Frontman Robert Mercurio is reminiscent of Joe Satriani having swapped his guitar for a saxophone but playing with equal virtuosity and flair. After warming up the crowd, we are bombarded by the lyrical intensity of Jurassic 5‘s MC Chali 2na and Boots Riley of The Coup atop of the tightest funk riffage. 2na and his younger brother rock the crowd with nonchalant finesse while Boots insights an audible riot onstage, leaving the crowd (and himself) sweaty, breathless and gasping air.

Back over on the Harbour Stage, local Fremantle boys Eskimo Joe need to do little to encourage the crowd’s adoration. They dress as though they’ve stepped out of a My Chemical Romance video, and the quartet even brings on a six piece string section to beef up their slabs of soft rock.

The crowd swells as the sun sets over Fremantle, as does the stage when Jools Holland & His Rhythm and Blues Orchestra take to it. Featuring 15 members, most musical royalty in their own right, a slew of guest vocalists provide a brilliant soundtrack to the golden sunset atmosphere.

In deja vu style, tonight it is second stage headliner Ozomatli‘s turn to steal the limelight from yet another ex-frontman who’s back on tour with new material. John Fogerty might have been much more successful than Ray Davies in his solo career, but tonight cantankerous ol’ Fogerty did little to win over any new fans, and probably turned off many long time supporters. Barking foul mouthed orders at stage hands and not even motioning to introduce his backing band, the egotist still managed brilliant renditions of Bad Moon Rising and Rockin’ All Over the World, but his seeming insincerity and self-importance left many with a sour taste.

In comparison, Ozomatli are as sweet as a spoonful of sugar. The medicine that the nine-piece collective provide comes in the form of musical grooves so infectious that not even the security men can keep from nodding along. With an incendiary blend of salsa, hip hop and tribal beats, they are the ideal festival band, inspiring a tent wide dance off. From politically charged numbers like (Who Discovered) America to the Jurassic 5 fronted Cumbia De Los Muertos, Ozomatli destroy the stage with stabs of trumpet, blasts of bass and an unlimited supply of charismatic magnetism; a fine send off to a mellow weekend of music in the sun-kissed southern hemisphere.

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