Cotton pickin' in Rozelle
By Col Hesse
SYDNEY — "Back to the Roots: A Celebration of Blues and Acoustic Music", at the Bridge Hotel in Rozelle on July 19, featured 10 different groups and individual performers.
With the exception of the Gadflys, whose origins go back to the late '70s and Canberra's premier punk band, the Word, all the performers have played in bands deeply influenced by the black American musical tradition.
This night demonstrated both the strengths and limitations of these influences on the making of music that reflects the culture and society of late 20th century Australia.
The performers who seemed to best articulate the way forward to something unique and exciting were the three trios, the Gadflys, the Leisuremasters and the Rain Dogs.
The Gadflys line-up features acoustic guitar, wailing clarinet and stand-up bass to provide a percussive rhythm. They are probably the best known of the groups. Their set consisted largely of original material, with some well-chosen covers with songs from punk to gospel to rock 'n' roll. The Gadflys received the most active audience response of the evening, with the dance floor quickly filling to the sound of the Gadflys real strength: great vocal harmonies and quirky rhythms.
A band with perhaps an even grander vision is the Leisuremasters. This was their first gig as a trio and they have yet to settle into the groove they had as a four-piece band, but they delivered a great set of their original songs inspired by Australian suburbia and beach culture, through to looking at rural myths in songs such as "Charters Towers". This band is unashamed in its desire to write modern pop songs, but this music is not foot-stomping hedonism, despite the real swing the band generates on stage, but more melodic and laid back, relying on its great choruses to get people in.
The best band on the night was the Rain Dogs, newly formed by former members of the Gadflys and the Leisuremasters and the drummer with the Backsliders. At this stage they only a few original songs, but their selection and rearrangement of songs by Tom Waits, Violent Femmes and Joe Jackson, among others, really set the crowd alive and yelling for more.
The other performers on the night were a lot of fun, and it was great to see the return to the stage of former Hippos piano player Bridie King. But the rest of the bands on the bill left this punter feeling that they should take up the challenge and look forward a little. There wouldn't be too many people in the audience who can really relate to picking cotton on the banks of the Mississippi.