Review: Ben Connolly
Photo: Amy Skinder
Jeff Lang was not always the teller of disturbed tales accompanied by face-melting blues guitar shredding. There was time – in the heady post-grunge days – way back at the beginning of this 15-year-long and counting career, that Lang appeared to fancy himself as a bit of a fringe-rock crooner. His then long locks and fresh face even graced morning television and he seemed always just on the verge of tipping into the mainstream proper.
While his blues-folk-roots-rock brethren (The John Butler Trio, Xavier Rudd, et al) watered down their origins after initially making the cross-over and opting for the high-exposure, high- sales paths, Lang instead maintained a steady personal path of discovery through the back alleyways which make up his self-described ‘disturbed folk’.
Along the way there have been excursions into deep south blues, rousing sea shanties, psychedelic-laden folk-pop and, more recently, ‘world music’ (with a collaboration with Malian kora player Mamadou Diabante and Indian tabla player Bobby Singh). His latest album, Chimeradour, stayed true to its Greek- mythology based namesake and married them together, but with subtle nod back to the earlier straight-rock days with some crunchy numbers laying a solid base layer.
As he entered the sparse stage, half of which housed drummer Danny McKenna’s sprawling kit, Lang’s audience at inner-Melbourne’s East Brunswick Club told as much of a story of this journey as much as his nine studio albums and countless live recordings. Up the back in the half-empty room swayed a middle-aged couple rediscovering romance; next to them bopped and whooped an older gent swiftly imbibing himself of the groove and grog (while testing the patience of his good lady wife); up the front a couple of inner-city hippies battled for dread lock supremacy; while a man with an impressive full beard tucked a supermarket green bag under his arm whilst balancing a stubby of Coopers. This was a converted flock and Lang, now sans-beard but still clothed in his surely trade-marked brown suit with the wide lapels, screamed every inch the pastor.
Famously working without a set-list, Lang at first cranked out a trio showcasing what appeared to be a wonderful new toy – a rescued National Resonator guitar. The instrument – a sort of half-sized Dobro – exuded a natural, yet unmistakably metallic tone and added a fuzzy depth early on. A double-time version of “The Road Is Not Your Only Friend” highlighted the restrained dog-like feel of McKenna’s drumming (the sounds of which were particularly humming thanks to the soundman for the night: ex-John Butler Trio drummer Jason McGann). Earlier highlights included “I Don’t Like Him Being In Here”, a tale of parental infidelity told through the eyes of an 8-year-old child, and the chugging “The Save”, a morose story of love lost and chased set to the beat of the Indian Pacific railway.
At that stage of the evening, Lang cracked out the Weissenborn lap-slide guitar for a trio of geographic numbers – “London”, “Lubbock Texas” and “Half a Tank of Hope” (partly telling the story within an Anchorage hotel room). And while it was clear the converted were up for a long night, Lang took no time in cranking the set to its peak – a duo of seriously rock-pose worthy numbers in “Slow Rooms and Fast-Blurred Faces” and “Make Me Believe” (complete with a “Highway To Hell” interlude) harking back to those heady days when rock prevailed. Up the front of the room, and under the watchful eye of the pastor in full flight, the encore closer of “Edge of Light” was something else to behold, with a renewed fresh faced Lang almost visibly breathing the fire of the mythical chimera and adding a touch of venom to the strings. It’d be a tough ask to find an Australian singer-songwriter more in touch with his craft in this era, and it’s without doubt a joy to be in his fold.
Review: Ben Connolly
Echuca-Moama Winter Blues Festival 2010 – Photo Gallery