By Kerrie Hickin.
Photos by Christina Jasmine.
Music, all music, is an eternal feedback-loop, forever morphing and mutating and self-referencing, the proverbial pop eating, inverting and regurgitating itself like the Ouroboros snake that’s as old as time itself. A festival such as this is a prime illustration of that immutable principal that the more things change the more they stay the same, simultaneously stationary and screaming towards the event horizon.
Elder statesman Mud Morganfield AKA Larry Williams: immaculately turned out, regal, imposing, eminently cognisant of his place in the continuum of music, a fact that is undeniably played out over his vocal chords and striking physical resemblance to a certain Mr M. Waters, Sr.
Embracing the familiar mid-tempo 12-bar structure, Mud Jr confidently displays his authority over the blues. He’s walking and working and playing with it, it’s both a companion and a captain.
At the inception of the rock and roll era, in the year of his son’s birth, Muddy Waters recorded Willie Dixon‘s ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’, the self-referential song’s theme a prophecy that the impending baby would be a ‘son of a gun’. Morganfield’s decision to cover it is, to use modern terminology, very ‘meta’. Despite his undeniable heritage, Mud Morganfield is his own man, and aged in his sixties, still relatively ‘young’: “I just had a birthday. Age ain’t nothing but a number – if you feel good you feel good.”
Both Mud Morganfield and Devon Allman are examples of ‘next-generation’ artists (along with Jeff Buckley, Arlo Guthrie and Kirsty MacColl to name but a few) who have inherited the genes of preternatural talent, yet have had to discover their own path to it (due generally to Dads variously absent, deadbeat, disinterested or dead), with or without the support of other family. Somewhat ironically, with consideration to The Allman Brothers’ ‘family’ motif, Devon Allman didn’t knowingly meet his father Gregg until he was in his teens, but the writing was already on the wall and a guitar in his hand. Devon has proved to be a more-than-skilful player, whether locked into a groove with his band’s musicians, or embracing the spotlight on the lip of the stage, teasing and cajoling monumental solos from the six strings that are undoubtedly his own.
Jethro Tull have always been an enigma, emerging in the heady days of progressive rock’s bombast, a movement frontman Ian Anderson not-so-sheepishly acknowledges his band had a part in obfuscating, drawing strands from age-old folk and classical tradition tied together with a heavy electric grandeur, an unmistakeable sound that made them beloved of bikies and academics, historians and ‘heads’.
Anderson’s tales were peppered with time-spanning characters from folklore and urban decay, walking or shuffling along, twisting to reflect our concurrent divinity and basest humanity. His naked voice has, with time, lost some of the original sardonic snarl, and admittedly took a few songs to ‘warm up’, the opener Living In The Past perhaps revealing a bit more of this process than a less-challenging song might have in this prime slot. But the integral flute playing is still sublime and clear, and Anderson’s wit and alacrity accentuated with insights into the times and writing processes. “Enough of that old shit”, Anderson teases after playing the first few songs. “Let’s play something more up-to-date”. He pauses a moment for effect then adds “Here’s something from 1972”, and launches into Tull’s signature tune, ‘Thick As A Brick’, albeit a “castrated, truncated” version of the album-long suite. ‘Locomotive Breath’ from Aqualung, and Songs From The Wood round out the set; the prophetic line “It was a new day yesterday, but it’s an old day now”, written as a young man with seeming age-old wisdom, is now subtly imbued with a potent reminder of our ephemeral and temporal existence.
Damn right, Buddy Guy has got the blues. There’s no denying that. The man IS the blues, and has been a major player in disseminating that birthright globally. So influential is he, and his style, that he is looked to as one of the pillars of the genre and it was an immense honour that he bestows upon us by playing and sharing his expertise and experience.
To use the word ‘legend’ is almost not enough. At the age of 80, Guy still outstrips so many pretenders and relative whipper-snappers, and has counted pretty-much ALL the British beat-boomer guitar heroes as admirers. On this occasion, whatever the song, it was basically a foundation for Guy’s guitar shredding, jamming workouts and superlative mastery of the instrument, squealing and singing at its master’s bidding. The set included a number of not-so-sneaky musical references to one of his acolytes, Jimi Hendrix. And Guy not only plays guitar behind his back; in a playful has-to-be-seen-to-be-believed sequence, he plays it with his rump! How? I have no idea, but it works, a massive grin on Guy’s face as he does so. Sure it’s a party trick, but an epic one.
Santana, the band, were hotly anticipated by a massive crowd, although it must unavoidably be noted that many ‘casual’ fans were deprived of recognisable hits for most of the early part of the set, the most popular of these of recent times, ‘Smooth’, being relegated to quite late in the piece. It must be an unenviably difficult decision, for musicians with a substantial body of work, where to place familiar songs to maintain the interest of those with a short-attention-span (and on this occasion multiple other enticing options) while giving the dues to the rest of the material.
Unfortunately, about three songs in the crush for the exits was palpable, but those who remained were rewarded by Carlos Santana’s unmistakeable warm guitar tone and a tight, danceable band, including Dave Matthews (yes, from The Dave Matthews Band), and powerhouse drummer Cindy Blackman (memorable prime-era Lenny Kravitz band member) who takes a star-turn solo. An unexpected and very fun highlight was a ‘repurposed’ rhythmic version of Enya’s Orinoco Flow, the “Sail away, sail away, sail away” chorus transformed into a massive hook.
Madness have long-ago shed the restrictive categorisation of being ‘just’ a ska band, growing out of that nascent scene to cross-spectrum broad appeal. (Is it self-indulgent at this point to confess that they were the third international band I ever saw as a little tacker, after The Beach Boys and the B-52’s? Tough luck, I just did!).
The energetic off-beats of ‘Baggy Trousers’ and ‘House Of Fun’ seem to have primal intergenerational attraction, with little kids bopping along, alongside Mum and Dad (or is that Grandma and Grandpa?). ‘Our House’ has unfortunately been tainted by a certain pharmacy chain’s procurement of the tune (also the fate of a Status Quo classic, thanks to you-know-what supermarket).
As a nod to this being the last date of their ‘World tour of Australia’, the band played a surprisingly faithful version of AC/DC’s ‘Highway To Hell’. Ever-amusing vocalist Suggs introduced the end of the set with these words of wisdom: “As I said to my missus last night, all good things must come to a… conclusion. We’d like to leave you with this very simple sentiment”, and with that the band ushered in the eminently agreeable ‘It Must Be Love’. A welcome encore brought the band back to the stage for the early signature songs ‘Madness’ and ‘Night Boat To Cairo’.