Review by Stephen Goodwin for Life Music Media
Photo: Stuart Blythe
Armadas, historically, take a long time to build. It’s something to do with the size of the whole endeavour. On the evidence of tonight’s outing at the Hi-Fi Bar in Brisbane, Jeff Martin’s version – like the venue itself – still needs a few rough edges knocked off before it can truly take on the world.
Even early, the omens are there. Punters are forced to mill impatiently in the street outside the Hi-Fi long past the advertised opening time. Then, after doors open, the wait for psych-blues tie-dye standard-bearers Black Boards Mind feels interminable.
When they do appear, the Fremantle-based five-piece compound matters by seeming determined to turn in a trainwreck. Maybe it’s nerves, but jarringly out-of-sync vocals utterly destroy the first song and a half.
Eventually their sound begins to cohere, the vocals acquiring a straining nasal twang not too dissimilar to the Vasco Era’s Sid O’Neil. But even combined, Black Board Minds’ trio of vocalists possess nowhere near the Melbourne bluesman’s live-wire charisma. Song progression – characterised by a mushy bass-heavy sound that lacks any subtlety – feels equally leaden. The tambourinist’s creditable impression of the energiser bunny says it all: a manic distraction, it only serves to emphasise the act’s rawness.
Staring at Jeff Martin’s guitar rig, one entertains the possibility that it may contain more pedals than there are punters at the Hi-Fi tonight. And that’s not a dig at the crowd size – there’s plenty of the latter.
Martin’s admission during some mid-set technical issues – “it’s like trying to work the space shuttle up here” – feels like tacit validation, and one gets the feeling this massive contraption is the culprit of the early evening delays, and a longer-than-usual wait during the interval.
The downside of these delays is the flaccidness of the crowd. Curiously detached even as the band take up their instruments, they never seem to click with the band. Consequently, there’s too little of the energising feedback that can propel a “merely” good performance into something truly memorable.
For some musical styles, it’s irrelevant. But with the Armada squarely aiming for rock bombast, it’s a limiting factor.
The good news is that Martin and band are clearly “up for it”. It’s little short of jaw-dropping to simply watch skinsman Wayne P Sheehy’s pummelling drumwork. The intensity of sound is a whole order of magnitude more devastating.
Watching Martin, one is torn between appreciating his rich, pitch-perfect baritone, and admiring the almost-arrogant casualness with which he can pause and rip out a fiery solo. And, to the delight of the guitar nerds near the front, he does this often.
All the while man-mountain bassist Jay Cortez anchors the show with unflappable calm.
Several Tea Party tracks wedge themselves into the set, but the evening’s highlights draw themselves almost exclusively from The Armada’s self-titled debut. The sheer immenseness of opener Morrocco. The poignancy of Line in the Sand – even if the nuance-for-power trade-off is clearly felt compared to the “Live at the Corner” rendition. And the demented slide wizardry of Black Snake Blues, complete with a Led Zep excursion into Whole Lotta Love.
One exception is Winter Solstice, the Splendor Solis instrumental forming an spine-tingling acoustic one-two as it segues into new cut The Rosary.
After roughly 90 minutes, with The Armada closing out with another Tea Party staple Save Me, one is left with no doubt that the band has all the elements – strong songs and incredibly talented personnel. Once they iron out the kinks, they may just go on to conquer the world. Unlike the Spanish version.
Line in the Sand
Winter Solstice/The Rosary
Black Snake Blues
Closing Down Blues
Bands: The Armada – www.thearmada.com
Black Board Minds
Venue: The Hi-Fi Bar, Brisbane – www.thehifi.com.au
Date: May 10, 2009
Photo Gallery: JEFF MARTIN & THE ARMADA @ The Hi-Fi, Brisbane 10 May 2009
JEFF MARTIN & THE ARMADA @ The Hi-Fi, Brisbane 10 May 2009 and May 2009 Tour Dates
The East Coast Blues & Roots Music Festival Byron Bay – BluesFest 2008 – images including Jeff Martin