By DOMINIC FEAIN
Day three of Bluesfest.
Perhaps it’s the selective memory but it never ceases to amaze me how quickly one forgets the shear stamina and commitment five day festivals demand – let alone one with six stages and a line-up like this.
Herein lies the crux of the Bluesfest punter’s dilemma – how to choose between the likes of Iggy Pop and Robert Plant; Status Quo and the Beasts of Bourbon; the Dropkick Murphys and Taj Mahal, not to mention Santana and Wanda Jackson; Ben Harper and Chris Isaak; the Counting Crows and Joan Armatrading; Wilco and The Melbourne Ska Orchestra…
Bottom line? Decisiveness is the key. Where there’s no guts there’s no glory. Wavering between stages will only break you down faster and leave you with a gnawing sense of what might have been against a potential epiphany at a consecrated altar of live rock and roll.
Bluesfest is renowned for its special performances. Every year it seems at least one dark horse breaks through and blows the crowds away, just as every year at least one sceptical seasoned artist seems to find their long-lost mojo on the waves of goodwill generated by Bluesfest crowds.
And that’s the essence of this festival. The punters want their heroes to excel. Time and time again I’ve seen crowds pull something special out of bands by the apparent force of their shear collective will.
Which brings me to last night’s headline dilemma; Plant or Pop? I resigned myself to the first half of Robert Plant and the last half of Iggy and the Stooges. While Plant was his magnificent self, backed by the aptly named Sensational Space Shifters, he worked through an eclectic mix of solo stuff and Led Zeppelin classics like Whole Lotta Love, Going to California and Heartbreaker.
He wooed the jam-packed Mojo tent crowd who apparently left more than satisfied. Apparently being the operative word as once I heard that Stooges/Detroit guitar sound wafting in between songs I was a goner.
I arrived to a Crossroads stage crammed with about 40 gyrating punters and occasional glimpses of Iggy bouncing off them and the stacks. I felt positively rebirthed as I pogoed my way to the mosh pit like it was 1979. This 65-year-old Iggy was effectively indistinguishable from the half-naked lunatic I first saw tearing up Molly Meldrum’s Countdown set 34 years ago. And he never let up.
For well over an hour Iggy devoured the stage, and the mosh pit. Song after song he left us in no doubt the Chairman of the Bored was in the building; the godfather of punk was before us. Security had enough trouble pulling him out of the pit let alone getting those hard-core Stooges fans off the stage around the third song but by the fifth song, Search and Destroy, the gig hit overdrive as the Stooges matched Iggy’s intensity and finesse song for song. By the end of the encores they were spent; nothing left in the tank. And by the finale I wasn’t sure whether Toby Dammit or his drum kit would collapse first – but I had the all pervading feeling one of them wasn’t getting out of this alive.
Earlier in the day I had been so sentimentally swept away by those Status Quo hooks I missed the Beasts of Bourbon who by all accounts were back to their primal best. A colleague told me they “came out kicking and knocked everyone’s head clean off”.
Even the Dropkick Murphys pulled out a blinder after finding themselves in front of the sweatiest, heaving mosh pit this side of a Stooges gig. And I can honestly say I never expected these Celtic Boston lads to have a light show to rival that of Status Quo, but they did. And they carried it off. I caught most of their raucous, infectious set before slipping out to enjoy the sublime Taj Mahal.
Today sees a mix of returning Bluesfest faves like The Cat Empire, Luka Bloom, Kim Churchill, Tony Joe White, Xavier Rudd and Rufus Wainwright alongside the likes of Manu Chao. Pace yourselves punters, we still have another whole day to go.
Visit Bluesfest Byron Bay Official Website here!