2004-11-15 : A musical salad – Jason discovers the wonderments of London nightlife…

I'll get straight on with it shall I ? There's a lot to write about. This week I've been to 3 (count them, 3 !) bands, which is probably 2 more than I went to in 2003. If you can spot any kind of unifying theme here, then you're doing well.

Monday night I went to the Barbican Centre to see Ladysmith Black Mambazo. I've long been interested in their work; ever since being involuntarily subjected to it during Dad's period of interest in Paul Simon's “Rhythm of the Saints” album, although many Australians will recognise them more as the African singers from the Nescafe advert. Here is a picture of them which I pulled off a website. They didn't actually look anything like this the night I went.

The reason for including that picture was because the picture which came out off my “new” camera-phone was rather less successful. But more on that later.

What astounded me was that it was possible to get a tone so thick and rich out of just 9 guys ! Time just swallowed me up listening to these guys, and the harmonies were exquisite – a great range of blending voices, and no real distraction by any one voice to disrupt the union. Sadly, it's a bit hard for me to say any more about them, as I didn't know the titles of any of the tunes for the most part, and couldn't spell or pronounce them anyway. One moment which will stay with me for a long time was when they sang “Homeless” (which we sang in the 2000 Adelaide Gang Show, albeit far less beuatifully) – having had to sing this piece I think I appreciated it all the more. The diction, the placement, the phrasing, and the tone & blending were just sublime.

The night finished up with some rhythmic singing accompanied by what looked like a fairly incomrehensible dance – the purpose of which looked as if it may have been mating (?) – and the support acts coming back on stage… that was all fine, but then one of the support acts said his mobile was going off, and that it was a phone call from Nelson Mandela. I think either lack of understanding of cultural nuance, or merely tiredness set in by that point, because I was a fraction bewildered.

Anyway, moving on to the Main Course in this musical carte de semaine, Friday night I popped in to the Academy in Islington (no link for them, because they're sponsored by the English equivalent of VB – Carling Black Label – and I don't think I should encourage ANYONE to go near that 'orrible muck). I very nearly didn't make it at all due to a sudden bout of Friday afternoon apathy. Oh yeah, the band I went to was the John Butler Trio. And here's a picture.

And here's *my* picture.

It seemed a bit weird to go see an Australian band, but I figured it'd be worth a look-in, because I'd heard lots of great things about them, and there was *a* sing of theirs which I knew I really liked. Incidentally, it's a weird feeling when you go to see a band on the strength of one song, and they don't play it. As it turned out, I recognised 4 of their other songs, I just didn't realise who it was. Again titles are lost on me, this time not because they're named in African language, but primarily due to my ignorance.

Again, a thick and rich sound, but this time an extremely blues/roots rock type feel to it. Butler really makes that guitar sing, even if he does claim that his technique's “probably not right”, and that people shouldn't try to copy him, because that's no way to play a guitar.

The songs were well groovy and infectious, and it was rock with a conscience too, as John Butler doesn't mind espousing his political views on stage (not that there's anything wrong with that), but at the end of the day the thing that got me was the sheer awesomeness of the music.

The only awkward points in the night were once when he had to tell the largely Australian crowd to be quiet (in a fairly curt manner), and then the ludicrousness of the cloakroom situation after the gig. Honestly, if you had 2500 people queueing for their coats, would you only emply 2 16 year olds to sort it out ?

Finally, tonight represented the “dessert” of this musical feast – Hayseed Dixie ! (Although their site seems to be down at the minute). Wow, Let There Be Rockgrass indeed !

There was a support band, who were nothing short of dire – it was one of those “if you only had one bullet” moments… the lead guitarist/singer was a 14 year old mind trapped in a 45 year old body who thought he was the living embodiment of rock, or the front of house mixer who was of the school of thought that cranking everything up to 11 was the best way to mix. Thank god that finished when it did !

The first thing we were treated to was a sound check, cos Hayseed had only flown in from Norway 4 hours hence, and didn't have time to do one… but soon enough it was all rockin along. They pulled out all of their AC/DC catalogue favourites – You Shook Me All Night Long, Hell's Bells, Have a Drink on Me… We were also treated to a free philosophy session as well – the singer/guitarist/violin player told us that there are 4 basic ingredients to a good rock song – Beer, Love, Fighting and Hell… and if we were lucky, with enough of the first one they'd probably cover the other three.

There was a 3-song tribute to their preferred type of woman (i.e. Fat Bottomed Girls, Whole Lotta Rosie, and a sublime cover of Spinal Tap's Big Bottom), and a couple of their own originals, such as the story of how the singer married the daughter of the man who made moonshine in his town, with a chorus going “Oh the moonshiner's daught took corn and water, and made me liquor all night long”. Classy stuff.

They finished off with T.N.T. (including getting the audience to shout “Oink!” at the appropriate moments) and an elongated version of Highway to Hell, which proved without a shadow of a doubt that there's no song that can't be improved by the addition of a rockin banjo solo.

There was loads more to it, but that's a good taster of what Hayseed Dixie are about. If they come back any time soon, I reckon I'll be queueing up for that one.

I guess if that was dessert, then Monday night's band is gonna be the equivalent of either coffee or a cheese board. I'll let you know after I've been to see…. EUROPE !