Bob Dylan at the State Theatre of New South Wales


Tonight was my seventh time seeing Bob Dylan play live. I continued my lucky streak of never seeing Bob on a really bad night.

The man is a legend. He’s 73 years old, still writing great albums, and is reinventing old songs all the time.

Anyone hoping for greatest hits would be disappointed. He played for over 2 hours but until the encore produced only 3 songs written before 1997 (“She Belongs To Me”, “Tangled Up In Blue”, and “Simple Twist of Fate”). That’s OK, I’ve seen plenty of the classics before.

Songs like “Things Have Changed”, “Beyond Here Lies Nothin’”, and “Love Sick” pack a lot of punch with me. I was amazed that even recent songs like “Duquesne Whistle” have already been reworked into nearly unrecognizable versions.

The band is perfect. There are, as always, no frills. It’s an otherworldly combination of loose and laser-sharp, of legendary music and classics that are only a year old. It’s every bit of blues, jazz, rock, country, and folk Americana music on one stage.

Highlights? Bob playing at a grand piano instead of the little keyboard he’s used in the past, and “High Water (For Charley Patton)”. The full setlist is here.

Thanks Bob.

Dave Hole at the Bridge Hotel

I spent Halloween evening at the Bridge Hotel in Rozelle, Sydney, listening to the blues. This should come as a surprise to no one.

The Bridge is a no-frills place. It’s not sawdust-on-the-floors, but it’s not too far beyond that either. It’s a simple pub on one side and a small room with tables and a stage for music events on the other. The crowd the other night was, in the words of one of the performer, “small but select”. I and the two friends I went with would agree.

The first act was Canadian Charlie A’Court. I didn’t know until I looked him up, just before going into the room, that he’s actually a Nova Scotian like me. From Truro, in fact, so not far at all from where I grew up. Charlie’s got a powerful voice and plays a good acoustic guitar. He sounded great, and performed a good mix of blues, soft folk, and soul tunes.


The main event was Dave Hole, an Australian slide guitarist I’ve been keen to see since I heard him on an Alligator blues collection I picked up in the early ’90s. He hasn’t toured much in recent years, and this mini-tour around Oz is an acoustic one. He came on stage with a Dobro steel guitar; he was later joined by a drummer on snare and high hat, and a bass player, so not the stack of Marshalls he admitted he usually uses.

But no matter what sort of guitar he has in his hands, Dave Hole can play a slide guitar. He coaxes all those emotive slide sounds from his instrument, the wails and shouts, the glissandos of mourning.

And Dave plays from his guts. There’s no artifice about his performance. His singing isn’t polished. He makes an effort, and grimaces and gestures and shouts, but not in a put-on way. He just has the air of someone who’s self-taught, who loves the old roadhouse blues tunes, and who loves playing them.

By the end of the night it was perhaps getting to be a bit too much of the same sliding trills, over and over, for me. But then he ended with his version of “Purple Haze” and left me with a smile. Thanks Dave.

Lorde at the Metro Theatre

I’m just back from seeing Lorde play the tiny Metro Theatre in Sydney.

The first act was Oliver Tank, a one-man electro-groove-folk act. I liked his mix of samples, synthetic beats, and easygoing vocals in a laid-back sort of way.

Before I talk about Lorde I feel that I should clarify something. Lorde – real name Ella Maria Lani Yelich-O’Connor – is (at the time of this post) a 16-year-old trip-pop singer and songwriter from New Zealand. She is very distinct from Lordi, the ludicrously-costumed hard rock band from Finland that won the Eurovision song contest in 2006. Just so there’s no confusion. Because there has been.


Now, back to Lorde. She was good. I mean, for someone who can really only have performed on stage a limited number of times, given her age, she was pretty good. Her show didn’t consist of anything flashy. She sang, one guy played drums, and another played synth and electronics. There were a few lights. There were a lot of recorded background vocals, since a lot of the songs have multiple vocal tracks. There wasn’t much opportunity for elaborate showmanship.

Lorde did a hunched over, herky-jerky dance throughout the show, and flicked her cascading set of hair a lot, but was an assured performer for one so young. It was only between songs, when the crowd went mental, that she sometimes seemed at a bit of a loss as to how to respond. No worries, she’s got a whole career in front of her to become polished (and jaded and cynical).

A word about that crowd: they were loud. I have been to hundreds of gigs. Really, a lot. Metal, rock, punk, Springsteen, everything. And I’ve never heard a crowd scream so loudly all around me as I heard tonight. After she played “Royals” I had to cover my ears. “Biting Down” also got a massive response. The piercing volume might have had something to do with the high proportion of females in the audience. Nevertheless it was a clear sign that the crowd absolutely loved her.

For my money she was good, not amazing, live. She  played for slightly over an hour but got through most of the songs on her EP and LP. A surprising omission was new ANZ hit “Team”, which I really like. Maybe they’re still figuring out how to do it live. Here it is for you:

And just to show you that she can sing live here’s Lorde and her band doing “Royals” for a radio show in the US:

Lorde has shown herself to be a phenomenally catchy songwriter. She’s on the road to be a good performer. I don’t see that there’s any stopping her.

Sugar Bowl Hokum at the Union Hotel

The Union Hotel in Newtown is an excellent pub. They have lots of interesting beers, mostly local but with a few from overseas, and even a couple of hand-pumped ales. They have pool tables and a beer garden.  Something for everyone, really.

And this Sunday afternoon they had something that surpassed all of these:Sugar Bowl Hokum, a band that plays blues, jazz, and hokum tunes from the early 20th century. They were sweet and naughty and a lot of fun. I’d definitely catch them again.

Here’s a short clip of them playing Memphis Minnie’s “In My Girlish Days“.

Foals at the Enmore Theatre

I saw UK dance-rock band Foals live once before in early 2008. I thought they were good then but not varied enough. But I’ve liked their new album enough that I decided to go see them again last night at the nearby Enmore Theatre.

The first act were up-and-coming Melbourne band Alpine. Their song “Gasoline” has been pretty popular on the radio here, and for good reason. They’ve got a poppy vibe from their two vocalists but some hefty rock crunch from the musicians. Live they were hi-energy fun in that Karen O/Yeah Yeah Yeahs way. I enjoyed their set a lot.

When Foals came out soon afterwards I was really pleased I’d decided to give them another chance because they’ve grown as a band and as performers. They now have three albums to draw on, and their last two have both included more of the crunch they employ live but also broadened their music. It’s still a fairly focused sound, with a lot of U2-ish bell-ringing guitars but eminently danceable rhythms. The crowd could not help but shake itself to each guitar-driven song.


My favourites last night were old track “Electric Bloom” and new tracks “Inhaler, “My Number” (this one, especially, delivered early on, set the boogie tone), and “Providence”. All demonstrated how the band uniquely combines staccato guitar riffs with high-hat grooves to make dance-floor-filling rock songs.

Lead singer Yannis Philippakis got into the spirit of things with two stages dives, one with his guitar (and his solo kept going). It looks like the previous night’s show got even wilder, though, as he did a crowd dive from the upper level. Don’t try this at home, kids.

And finally, because it’s a great song, here’s “My Number” for your ear pleasure.

Lloyd Spiegel at the Camelot Lounge

I was looking at the upcoming gigs for Camelot Lounge and saw a listing for a blues guitar player named Lloyd Spiegel. That piqued my interest so I dug into it a little more. I found out that Lloyd has been named one of the 50 best Australian guitarists of all time.

Lloyd Spiegel

Then I found this video:

Then I bought tickets to see Spiegel.

The gig was Friday night. We were ‘way up in the front so we could get a good view. Spiegel in no way looks like a rock star, though, or even a blues star for that matter. He’s a completely ordinary-looking bloke, the kind of guy you’d know from work or that installs your sink. He was dressed completely ordinarily.

But once he sat on that stool and lifted that acoustic guitar Lloyd let loose with a powerful – almost overpowering – blast of blues music. He can play. The only way to know is to see it live, like in that video above, or this one:

He played standards and his own songs, accompanied by drummer Tim Watkins. It felt free of artifice, and almost overwhelming in guitar proficiency.

Lloyd is a blues shouter, with a full-throated, powerful voice. There were few mellow tunes, though I really liked this one.

For fans of the blues, or acoustic guitar playing, Lloyd is an amazing Australian act.

Christa Hughes & Ben Fink at Camelot Lounge, plus LazyBones Lounge

Camelot Lounge is one of the funkiest recent additions to Marrickville. It opened a year or two back, a music club in an old building in the very industrial space close to Sydenham train station, and the legitimate offspring of warehouse party outfit Qirkz. They focus on blues, jazz, folk, and world music in a small eclectic (and camel-centric) space. And it’s very close to where I live.

On Thursday Qirkz were giving away a couple of last-minute free tickets to that night’s show and I managed to snag one. So I grooved on down the road to see Christa Hughes and Ben Fink.


Christa comes from a musical family and performs a very cabaret-infused style of early blues and jazz. Her full-on burlesque theatricality added pizzazz to alt-rock group Machine Gun Fellatio, but she’s been performing on her own for about 8 years. Ben is a guitarist, composer, and singer who dabbles in several roots styles.

They played a set of songs that drew from early blues, back when there was little difference between that musical form and others like jazz and folk and gospel. Hughes’s powerful theatrical voice and flamboyant stage manner drew your attention, while Fink’s raw, understated playing gave it a rootsy grounding. They played standards like “Midnight Special” and Skip James’ “Hard Time Killin’ Floor Blues” (which, interestingly, morphed into Led Zeppelin’s “The Lemon Song”, which of course references Howlin’ Wolf’s very different “Killing Floor” and Robert Johnson’s “Travelling Riverside Blues”). They also did a great version of Bessie Smith’s double-entendre-filled  “My Kitchen Man“.

That burlesque naughtiness spilled over into some of Christa and Ben’s originals too. “Pig Flu Blues” was a snorting, coughing ode to feeling miserable (and a run-in with the cops). And in a move sure to entertain all the kids whose parents had brought them along for the evening, Hughes bemoaned the emphasis on anal sex in modern adult entertainment with a tune called “Bring Back the Pussy in Porn”.

While I really like early blues the shrill pantomime of Christa’s performance wears thin on me after a while. I ducked out at the intermission, suitably entertained and not wanting to slip over into the point of diminishing returns.

On the way home I stopped into an even newer music venue in Marrickville, just two minutes from my front door, located in what I believe used to be a Vietnamese karaoke bar: LazyBones Lounge. This very cool, large, ultra-loungey upstairs room can only have been open a couple of weeks. Judging by the quality jam band, interesting decor, impressively stocked bar, no cover charge, and already-substantial crowd this place has got some legs. I’m looking forward to chilling out here in the near future.

Martha Wainwright at the Sydney Opera House

It wasn’t part of the Vivid festival but I somehow found myself back at the Opera House yet again last night. This time it was to see Martha Wainwright. If you don’t know Martha’s background, or understand the source of her musical DNA, read this.


She was incredibly good. Her songs are very personal, with beautiful melodies. Most of her style comes from an acoustic singer-songwriter place. She did play several solo songs, but on the rest her backing band gave her enough scale and oomph to provide some dynamics.

More dynamics came from a couple of Edith Piaf songs in the middle of the set, as well as a guest slot she gave to Brighter Later (who didn’t get to open the night as the Opera House now frowns on this apparently). Plus she gave us her version of Nick Cave’s “The Ship Song”.

Martha is a great live performer: funny and engaging between songs, expressive and full of movement during them. Her vocals are very authentic, just raw enough but with control that comes from both talent and practice. There was banter with her husband (who’s in the band), jokes about brother Rufus, a stage visit from her kid (more show business DNA, it seems), and a discovery that performing lying down is quite comfortable.

Both her parents got appropriate nods: Martha closed her main set with her mother’s last song, the delicate “Proserpina” (the video is below), and finished the encore with a less delicate song about her dad.

She was wacky, endearing, and a musical force. It was an impressive evening.

Vivid Sydney: Sounds of the South at the Sydney Opera House

Alan Lomax was a folklorist and collector of American field recordings. Any student of US roots music will know his name: the music and stories he collected in the ’40s and ’50s for the Archive of American Folk Song at the Library of Congress was a driving force for the popularity of blues and folk music in the ’60s.

A collective of musicians from America (and one from Canada) played two concerts on the weekend as part of the Vivid festival that paid homage to the music that Lomax uncovered for us. That show was called Sounds of the South, and I caught the Sunday afternoon show.

The collective included Megafaun, Matthew E. White, jazz group Fight the Big Bull, Bon Iver frontman and founder Justin Vernon, and former Be Good Tanyas member Frazey Ford.



The assembled 13 musicians played a set of songs inspired by the Alan Lomax recordings. Almost none were straight covers; they were, instead, rocked-up, jazzed-up, or psyched-up. Almost all worked really well, resulting in blues-, gospel-, or folk-based tunes that showed how these themes have influenced modern music. They were exciting. There were multi-part harmonies. There were tales of sadness, and sung prayers of joy.

The middle section didn’t work for me. It got a little too free-form and discordant. I was constantly reminded of Spinal Tap’s jazz odyssey.

But most of it was really good. Vernon and Ford’s singing were highlights, as were all three brass players in Fight the Big Bull. They (mostly) found a great balance of homage and reinterpretation. And they encored with The Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down”.

It was the sort of rare event that keeps me coming back to Vivid.

Here’s an excellent video of one of the songs – performed a few years ago – that was one of the highlights the other night; Vernon singing Mississippi Fred McDowell’s “When You Get Home Please Write Me A Few of Your Lines”. It starts as a near-acoustic cover, then morphs into a jazz-rock groove.