Sunday, November 16, 2008

Harry and Jeff

You know your city is cool when...

... you can spend 2 weekends in a row sitting in the sun watching some of the world's best Blues and Roots artists. For absolutely nix.

With the Tiger and I still buzzing off the great weekend which was Valley Fiesta, as well as a cool show by Franti and Spearhead, we scoured the gig guides trying to search out our latest fix. It didn't take much searching, however, as staring at us clear in the face were 2 standout gigs - one by Harry Manx and one by perennial favourite Jeff Lang - on successive weekends. Better still, for one reason or another, both gigs were completely and utterly free!

First up was Canadian Harry Manx's gig at the Queensland Multicultural Festival. With a blustery and drizzly day on hand, The Tiger and I decided to stay in for most of the event, only venturing out towards the end of the afternoon in order to catch Harry at his finest. After being switched on to Harry's goodness a couple of years back by guitar purveyor Steve-O, he's been a staple of many live music experiences in the past couple of years. The Tiger was introduced to him this year, and instantly fell for his unique blues style, not to mention his cute Grandpa-style banter and humour.

Both were in abundance today, as the usual trio expanded to a quartet (incorporating keys into the stripped-back guitar, drums, bass standard) entertained a wide cross-section of punters one could expect in a free, government-sponsored orgy of "multi-cultural harmony". With the sun just breaking through the clouds in time for the gig, we settled into a comfy grass-covered seat in the amphitheater and became as equally enthralled with Harry's music as we were distracted by the dozens of kids - and some adults - using the music as a fitting soundtrack to their hulla-hooping in front of the stage.

Pulling on his back catalogue, Harry seemed intent on ignoring the status quo for free or festival events, and steered well clear of his better known tracks in favour of some more obscure numbers mixed in with some hard-core jamming. Sitting mostly on his custom Mohan Veenah guitar - a mix of an acoustic lap-slide guitar and a sitar, of which I'm still yet to totally understand the mechanics - he did manage a couple of covers (his now famous Voodoo Child included) before exiting the stage and leaving us wandering around the city unsuccessfully searching for a place to have a beer, a feed and watch the cricket on a quiet Sunday evening.

Fast forward a mindless working week, and we're back out in the outdoors and listening to some kick-ass tunes. This time the musicality was provided by blues blood brother Jeff Lang, who was once again drawn to our northern sunshine. After a rather uneventful Japanese society picnic or something, we ferried it from New Farm park down to North Quay for the annual "Groove and Grape Festival" in a rather small and nondescript park in front of the Condrad Treasury Hotel. The festival itself had been on all weekend, and was now into its 2nd or 3rd year, but it was a first time visit for TheTiger and I. Loftily named Groove and Grape and billing itself as a food and wine festival meant that there were some high expectations in my mind of some decent food and some rather nice wine to be had. After embarking on a fact-finding mission to determine if it did live up to expectations, we were slightly forlorn - the food was a marginal step up from music festival deep-fried goodery, with some token pastry offerings to make it look slightly more swanky. If their haughtily described "cheese and crackers" was anything to go by (it turned out to be nothing more than an individual serve of Arnott's dry Water Crackers and some no-name cheddar scraped from the bottom of a barrel), then their mouth-wateringly described "beer battered fries" would be nothing more than the floppy, sloppy, taste-less chips which could have been sourced from any shopping mall food court bain-marie any day during the week.

So it tanked on the food stakes? Who cares, this was about music and wine, yes? I mean, half of the festival name was derived from the wine's root ingredient, so you'd expect the offerings to be mildly ok, wouldn't you? Oh... no, not really. The wines were any old slop the large barrel-houses were trying to off-load in the truck full, obviously after being rejected by the wine-buying hordes for the past year or so. Having to part with 4 hard-earneds for a plastic cup of some South Oz brew was sickening. The snifter of plonk could hardly have even been considered enough for a "tasting" where I come from. So, after one $4 "tasting" we did the next obvious thing - forked over $20 for a bottle. It would go well with our lovingly crafted beer-battered fries served with a smattering of sea-salt. And smothered in red and sweet chilli sauce just to give it some hint of flavour.

Never mind, it was the Groove part of this festival we were really here for, and so this is where it really shone through. Setting up himself, I noticed a lovely return to the stage by drummer extraordinaire Danny McKenna. A regular in years past, Danny had been side-lined for recent Jeff live offerings, as he pursued the "disturbed folk" genre as a guitar and bass duet. And while he hasn't put a foot wrong with this move, I was still shivering with anticipation of seeing the raw syncopated power of the bearded Danny McKenna adding weight to Jeff's sound again. As the set began, it was clear they hadn't actually played or rehearsed with Danny for a long time, with the drummer seemingly struggling to find the beat, especially to the newer tunes which were recorded without a drum at all. As the set progressed, however, the beat found itself and he was let loose to run free on some of Jeff's older and more lumbering tunes like London and The Save. Both songs in particular truly outlined the band's faith in not only each other, but also with the crowd. Usually in such festival situations, artists such as Jeff tend to limit their forays away from the more well known songs, and even within those songs only restrict themselves to faithful renditions of the studio-versions of them - censoring themselves, if you will, in order to not alienate a possible new audience. It was not to be today, however, with the band rightly judging the audience to be on-side and tolerant and so let the songs wander around within a very loose structure - meaning that all 3 members had a chance to show their worth and take the sames in different directions and tangents. The skill shone through brightly as Jeff managed to wrangle each and every tangent back to the song's cores, leading to massive endings and amazing crowd appreciation. Being a festival, however, the timings were limited and just 7 or so songs into the mix the slot was over and so was our wine.

Bidding farewell to Jeff and to the now annoying sunshine (only annoying due to a developing burn raising itself on my arms), we headed for home and the local bottle-o to continue to wine-y goodness (sourcing the same bottle of wine for $12 no less!). The glow around us may have been wine-related, or it may have been sun-related, but I'd like to think a whole swag of it was related to seeing 2 amazing musicians in 2 weekends for absolutely nothing. This city really does kick ass sometimes.


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