Wednesday, 4 April 2012

Buddy Guy/ Johnny Lang Palais Theatre

It's Easter which means Bluesfest sideshows in Melbourne, the best time of the year even better than Christmas! Last night I saw Chicago blues legend Buddy Guy play at the Palais Theatre with Johnny Lang as support. I must say from the outset how impressed I was with Johnny Lang, I remember him bursting on to the scene when he was only in his teens, possesed with a powerful throaty voice and vibrato driven guitar style. Even amongst community radio stations that have blues programs his recordings have been somewhat ignored, hopefully his amazing performance last night will rectify that situation in the future.

I was floored by his voice, I can't recall seeing a white performer sing a mixture of soul, blues and gospel with such deep conviction and emotion. He was ably supported by his band who were adept at building the intensity behind him as well as slowing things down when required and allowing the focus to shift to Lang's amazing delivery. In it's current form, reading this you might think Johnny Lang was the headliner such is the effusive praise.

Buddy Guy is nowadays the international ambassador of Chicago blues, his showmanship is unquestionable but for last night it detracted from his performance. His performance focused more on tricks rather than the history of chicago blues of which he left such an indelible imprint. There were disjointed versions of Hoochie Coochie Man and She's 19 Years Old that had some fire and passion but they were then dominated by solos that seemed to stretch beyond breaking point at times. There were fragments of more modern blues work from acts like Cream and The Rolling Stones which seemed disjointed I was sitting there thinking why is he playing these songs. He also performed some new material which was actually quite good, more stripped back and reflective of his origins. There is no questioning his ability in either guitar or vocal delivery, his raw vocal style is well and truly evident at 75 years young, but it would be better to see a more focused performance that draws on his catalogue, including some of the memorable recordings he made with Junior Wells. The highlight of the night for me was at the end of the night when Buddy Guy came back out to throw his guitar picks into the audience he threw one in our vicinity and it hit my Dad smack bag in the forehead, thankfully I was able to grab it off the ground, nice work Dad!

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