17 August, Cabana By Michael Hawksworth
If there’s a venue in Hawke’s Bay for blues, it would have to be the Cabana. Dusty Rhodes and the Blues Mobile have been such an ever-present fixture of the venue’s line-ups back through the mists of time that it seems they were originally secreted from its walls. Peering through The Cabana’s low-ceilinged murk is exactly how you’d expect to find a bunch of hard-bitten, hard drinking, hard done-by blues pugilists toughing it out on a pokey alcove/platform at the far end that still gets referred to as a stage. (And before you think I’m having a go at the Cabana here, I’m not, I’m describing a part of its beauty.)
Grit is not what we’re getting tonight, though, with Australian “Neo Blues” outfit, Kings and Associates. Fresh from winning at The Australian Blues Music Awards in no less than three categories, what we have here is a crack professional unit bringing pop gloss and sentiment to the funky old grind. Is that what “Neo Blues” means?
The three male musos of the band take the stage looking unremarkable in baseball caps and beanies, but lead vocalist Angie Portolesi is all show biz, with shaggy-bouncy hair, a long figure-hugging Matrix trench coat and a tambourine, kind of like late 70’s Stevie Nicks photoshopped to look like early 70’s Robert Plant. Kings and Associates made straight for a blues boogie opening number with a Muscle Shoals feel and faultless well-drilled playing that got at least two of the 3 dozen or so audience onto the dance floor. Next song, “Nitty Gritty” had a nice 6/8 groove that showcased Angie’s voice – not a big set of pipes like Tami Neilson, but a more relaxed medium ‘kewl’ that does the job without necessarily drawing attention to itself. Well, not during the songs anyway.
Angie is a thoughtful person, who’s seen some trouble in her life, (as have we all), and she ponders those troubles and turns them into lyrics. And that’s what its all about, it’s the Blues. Not content, however, to express solely through song, she prefaces every number the band embark on with an explanatory spiel, a musing homily about how (and I’m improvising an average here) this friend of hers, you know, gave too much credence to what other people said about her, and it affected her and she stopped loving herself and it was a tragedy blah blah but its important to be your own person and and live your own truth blah blah and this song is not just dedicated to her friend but to all those suffering from anxiety which can easily turn into mental illness blah blah…
Of course it must be hard to take a hoary, gritty old form like the blues and update it for a contemporary audience, to make it sound fresh and vital again, but I’m pretty sure that that wouldn’t involve preachy new age affirmations. Facebook Blues, anyone? Don’t get me wrong, I’d never give a band a pasting for their social conscience/activism, BUT…. When artists use their art as a soapbox it really gets up my nose. Part of the appeal of the blues, isn’t just the way it addresses trouble, but that somehow there’s this libidinal undertow, this earthy sensuality that drives the whole thing, that makes it conflicted, messy, human, flawed, dirty. Its never been about ‘improving’; its about coping.
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