Not that you'd ever describe Marcus Miller as “classic rock”. A noteworthy jazz/funk bass player and collaborator with Miles Davis, I was convinced it wouldn't be difficult to shift my spare ticket to this gig. More complex a proposition than I thought however, after arranging for 3 people in total to come along, only to have them all bail out – it makes you wonder if they know something you don't. It turned out really easy to palm the ticket off before I even got to the Jazz Cafe(which was completely sold out), and my fears were allayed by an incredibly solid performance.
Miller is an important pioneer of slap bass – the percussive electric bass technique where the player slaps his thumb against the string rather than strumming or picking it to cause vibration – and this gig was definitely more geared at funk than jazz.
Not being closely familiar with his catalogue, it's hard to recount standout moments, although his arrangement of “Jean Pierre” (recorded by Davis) worked exceptionally well when bass-driven rather than trumpet-led. Also one thing that was particularly nifty was the “tightness” of the group – quite often Miller would turn about and start jamming on a keyboard he had behind him, and it took a few times for me to work it out – originally I thought he must have recorded the bass riff with one of those live overtracking boxes, but then I worked out that whenever he turned about the keyboard player would seamlessly take over the bassline on one of his decks, with a bass voice. The amazing thing was how seamless it all was, and if you were listening to a recording you'd probably never even notice. A definite A-class gig, and I'll be lining up for more next time Miller's in town.
A bit of a contrast then was Wolfmother. I'd heard great things about this curly haired trio from Erskineville – comparisons on the lips of people included Led Zeppelin – and so I tried to settle into the gig with optimism. Maybe I'm just getting old & cynical (hey, it COULD happen !), but I've gotta say, I thought the whole thing was a bit tedious. The songs were solid & rocking enough, but the performances were really “another day at the office” material, and I found myself wondering how they'd attracted all this hype when they hadn't produced a single original sound all night. Every guitar lick, phrase, chord progression or other stylistic device they employed was instantly recognisable from other bands (presumably where the Led Zep comparison came from). If it hadn't been for the monumental encore set (which though a little misplaced I thought given that the crowd barely worked for it, and that it was only 10:15pm) which more or less rescued the gig, I'd have cast the whole experience off as a derivative waste of time.
But to finish on an upbeat, Robert Plant and Strange Sensation. It just seems impossible for that bloke to do a bad gig ! Clustered as we (Brian, Olivia, Tony, Chris B and I) were in the courtyard of Somerset House under a looming & pendulous sky that threatened to break at any second, the whole thing was a bit of a non-sequitir – outdoor summer gig indeed…
The set list was their normal mix of material from the recent album along with rearrangements of Zeppelin classics and then just some of Plant's favourite tunes. The gig kicked off with the trancey/electronic tones fused with Zeppelinesque guitar and drum smashes of Tin Pan Valley, with the keening vocals of Plant guiding the whole thing confidently forward – an excellent stamp of ownership on the gig by the entire band and a good way to make it perfectly clear that they were a complete musical unit, rather than just the current lot that the singer had picked to back him.
The weather held off through Rock and Roll, The Enchanter, Going To California, Takamba, Shine It All Around, and the other ones which he played and I can't remember the names of (oh yeah, Rolling Stone, here I come !). He didn't excessively address the crowd, although he did riff on the Births, Deaths & Marriages thing (formerly, this office was located in Somerset House), and went off on a tangent when the family had requested lineage data that his mother's side of the family was revealed to have been descended from Saladin, and his father from Pope Pius the Ninth.
All the while Plant's golden mane blew in the breeze in stereotypical rock star fashion – it wasn't particularly windy back where we were, which led me to ponder whether he had a giant fan mounted on the front of the stage (ala Joey Tempest at the Europe gig in 2004), whether it was windier 8 feet up in the air where he was, or whether he's just so famous & ethereal that he generates his own hair-levitation aura.
They finished up with a particularly cool rendition of Gallows' Pole (one of my favourite songs, in any of its incarnations) which genuinely sounded like it was going to transform into Kashmir at any point, and then paused while Plant gave a tribute to the musicians of the Delta, and then went off into an almost absent-minded blues jam, singing “I'm a King Bee, buzzin' round your head…”. Some of the crowd looked at each other as if to say “Right, he's lost the plot”, however anyone following the chord resolutions could have predicted what happened next – “You need cooling, baby I ain't fooling…”, and BAM! Whole Lotta Love rocked us out, and that was that.
This review truncated of any further social commentary by virtue of the fact I'm now in a hurry.