Live Review | Bluesfest 2011 – Day Two, Featuring: Rodrigo y Gabriela, B.B. King, Fistful of Mercy, Jack Thompson & the Original Sinners and RocKwiz Live

Review By: Pepa Wolfe
Photos by: Silvana Macarone
Early birds and trivia buffs rocked up to the Jambalaya Tent on Friday to test their skill and perhaps earn a place on the panel of RocKwiz Live. Cracking the proverbial whip and vetting the various hopefuls was producer and co-host of the SBS series Brian Nankervis who after seven years with the show has it down to a fine art. Appearing across four days of the festival, Friday’s first taste had host and improv queen Julia Zemiro in top form, and featured musical guests Tim Rodgers (You Am I), Marcia Hines and Glenn Richards (Augie March), as well as a couple of impressive punters whose extensive music trivia knowledge was bested only by their brazen karaoke efforts, one contestant whipping out a harmonica and riffing with the impeccable RocKwiz Orkestra. A highly entertaining start to the afternoon, Richards, Hines and Rogers blasting Kiss’ I Wanna Rock and Roll All Nite, the icing on the cake.

Xavier Rudd once again graced the Mojo tent, his combined skills across instruments and boundless energy generating a wave of good vibes that were clearly contagious. He was followed by Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, an incredible seven-piece that plays self-coined “supafunkrock”. The initial impact of that huge sound provoked a massive response from the packed Mojo, and while prior commitments beckoned, this reviewer made an instant note to self: catch Trombone Shorty tomorrow!

Aussie supergroup Jack Thompson & the Original Sinners showed the Bluesfest crowd just what old rockers are made of with an electrifying set at the Crossroads tent. The icon of Aussie cinema sat centre stage, infusing the Original Sinners’ rock with lashings of blues harp, while the dynamic combination of Kevin Borich on lead guitar and Normie Rowe, whose vocals are sounding better than ever, ripped up the stage around him. Clearly inspired by the music and delighted to be playing together, the six-piece offered classics like Shaking All Over and Walk the Dog, with plenty of ribbing and a good dose of self-depreciation in between. The absolute highlight was a cover of Lorraine Ellison’s Stay With Me, a moving addition to the lively rock set.

The other supergroup at Blues on Day two was American trio Fistful of Mercy, featuring Joseph Arthur, Dhani Harrison and Ben Harper. Performing songs from their debut album (written and recorded in just three days) their acoustic folk sounds incorporate the ambience of slide guitar provided by Harper complimented by violinist Jessy Greene. A cover of Bob Dylan’s Buckets of Rain, the most engaging contribution, was soon followed by their namesake Fistful of Mercy. Despite the charm of Harrison, by far the most dynamic presence on stage, on the whole the set seemed to be lacking any spark – not enough to keep this listener when the Blind Boys of Alabama were raising the roof over at the Crossroads tent.

The Blind Boys of Alabama really are a must-see. The charismatic six-piece deliver a rousing performance through gospel, soul and blues, their rendition of Amazing Grace nearly bringing down the house.*

When the Blind Boys have finally left the stage, the tent is cram packed and yet no-one moves. The masses are happy, it seems, to wait right where they are for the opportunity to catch a glimpse of the legendary B.B. King. Not only were festival goers clamouring to catch this set, but so too were half of the artists on the bill. King’s band warmed the crowd with rousing blues, an impressive horns section punctuating the zing in the air, until the man himself finally appeared, throwing picks into the crowd before taking his throne centre stage.

The 85 year old King joked, sang and coaxed a little blues from his signature Gibson “Lucille”. Songs included I Need You So, Key to the Highway, and Why I Sing the Blues, as well as an interactive rendition of Rock Me Baby, with the responsive crowd thrilled to be singing with the King of Blues.

After some fresh air, water and a much needed seat, it was back to the Crossroads tent to catch the only appearance of Rodrigo y Gabriela. Ending a six-month hiatus from touring, during which they joined Hans Zimmer in scoring the latest instalment of Pirates of the Caribbean, the duo appeared relaxed and energised, happy to be playing five dates in Oz before heading back to Mexico to work on their next album.

Their music is often described as unique, rhythmic, and intricate, a fusion of styles, and it is easily all of these things, but more than that, it is truly joyous. The set was an exhilarating concoction on acoustic guitars, encapsulating everything from head banging metal to psychedelic interludes, from percussive roots to a gorgeous harmony of strings, with a taste of flamenco thrown in. A pied piper on rhythm guitar, Gabriela’s infectious percussion had the crowd enthralled, bending to her every whim, while Rodrigo charmed through the twists and turns of their rich melodies with his flawless technique. People were clapping and stomping through most of the set; for Tamacun the entire tent was airborne.

A fast and furious ride that leaves you feeling charged rather than spent, the pair are extremely generous with their audience and the love is returned tenfold, with people still raving about Rodrigo y Gabriela days later. Australian audiences eagerly await their return.

* Day4’s coverage will feature a more detailed review of the Blind Boys set.

by: Pepa Wolfe

* Music Legends, Movie Stars and Generosity of Spirit – Bluesfest 2011
* Bluesfest 2011 – Day One, Featuring: ZZ Top, Los Lobos, Funky Meters, CW Stoneking and The Hands. – Live Review
* Byron Bay Bluesfest 2011 – Day 5 – Photo Gallery
* Byron Bay Bluesfest 2011 – Day 4 – Photo Gallery
* Byron Bay Bluesfest 2011 – Day 3 – Photo Gallery
* Byron Bay Bluesfest 2011 – Day 2 – Photo Gallery
* Byron Bay Bluesfest 2011 – Day 1 – Photo Gallery