Byron Bay Bluesfest, Day 1

East Coast Blues and Roots Music Festival

Day 1 Thursda, 5 April 2012

“I’M PREGNANT!” A guy yells from the crowd.

Dallas Frasca halts mid scream and chuckles.

“You know what?” She shouts back, “I AM TOO!”

The crowd cheers as Dallas once again grips the mike in one hand and resumes her gospel scream. And when she pulls the mike back to her, lifts her head and releases the beast of her voice- rasping and guttural- you can feel it rattling your voicebox.

It’s 4pm at the Apra stage, one of the first gigs of the festival. Frasca has drawn quite a significant crowd, all bubbly and warm from the raging heat outside.

Dallas Frasca tears it up

From the very first notes, it was on. Distorted guitar sounds whirled around the stage, lifting and lifting. The drummer leaps up and starts slamming the kick drum for all he’s worth, as the guitarist swings his arms and smashes a low chord. The result is palpable, the bass slams into your chest and shakes your body. The slide guitar then phases in and out, and weaved around the crashing cymbals it creates a Hendrix -esque sound scape. The crowd start to surge as Dallas herself enters the whirlpool- all fiery red dreadlocks and denim- she looks as badass as they come. Best of all, she’s holding a cowbell.

She slams four quick beats and throws the cowbell behind her, as the first powerchord is strummed out and is so loud to make your ears bleed. From then on, it’s the craziest hour of authentic stomp blues you will ever hear. The guitarist (Jeff Curran- dressed like a trucker, playing an upside down Flying V) and the drummer (Pete McDonald- half crazed expressions taking over as he smashes the kit for all he’s worth) are nothing compared to the blistering presence that is Dallas herself. Tall, imposing and possessing that unbelievable voice, she dominates the stage. Her vocals swing from hardcore blues rock to soul/RnB sounding lines. From her first few notes, swirling and screaming, you can’t ignore it. It’s like a bolt gun to the brain.

The relentless hammering of the drums hold the rest together, as we are served with the dirtiest, roughest, more unapologetic stomp blues to be heard in Australia. Stabs of distorted riffing, punctuated with hectic slide guitar solos, ride under the fearsome vocals of Dallas, as she clutches a Les Paul guitar emblazoned with her own image. Her low, distorted powerchords match with the kick drum just to drive the stomp further into our skulls. She goes swampy on ‘Freedom’, and then gets angry on ‘One Man Woman’.The epic 10 minute hardcore blues jam ofWondersaw her shrieking up her register, screaming ‘Higher!”, before descending into more sweet vocal runs. Finishing with her new single ‘All My Love’, life-size red hearts rush the stage and leap around like maniacs. It’s a surreal end to what was a fiery performance.

We emerged from the tent, a bit bruised and ears ringing. The crowd is grinning, as if no one can really believe just what the hell went on in there.

Sunset starts to descend on the Bay and we shuffle over the the Mojo for Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue. They deliver a high energy set full of blasting horns (a baritone sax nearly bottoming out the lower notes), shredding guitar solos, sweat soaked towels, and the heaviest funk this side of New Orleans. Shorty wields the trombone like a machine gun, blasting out notes as fast as we can process them. His 3 minute long trumpet note had the crowd gasping for air, as the tension built and built until Trombone finally collapsed, gasping for breath as the crowd jumped and screamed. The tight band hopped from double time to half time, holding the grooving beat down whilst the horns delivered the sweetest soul/funk riffs you’ll hear this festival. Shorty’s own satin smooth vocals (reminiscent of James Brown at times) rip through a cover of “I’ve Got a Woman” , before trying his hand at scatting. The band change instruments halfway through, Shorty ending up on drums, sweat flying from his brow. It’s a whirlwind performance, never letting us up to breathe.

The crowd again wanders off a bit dazed. It’s nice then, that Ziggy Marley is here to lay down some nice reggae tracks to heal us. Sounding (and looking) more like his father every day, Marley unleashed his brand of reggae- thumping, hard beats under smoky organ and psychedelic, wailing guitar solos. His reverb soaked vocals pleased the crowd with his cover of his father’s “Get Up, Stand Up”. The wah- affected Hendrix guitar rides over the bubbly upstrokes. It’s a heavy reggae performance, perfect for those of us who needed a little sit down after the first two performances. Enjoy by leaning back against a pole with your eyes closed.

My Morning Jacket burned the stage up and danced on the ruins with their unbelievably commanding performance. The crowd is plunged into darkness before the lowest bass note to have permeated Byron Shire’s eardrums emanated out, physically moving me a step back. The band then tore through a set list of country alt

My Morning Jacket

rock, always keeping the sound moving forward. Between each song we were plunged into darkness, before sound scapes plucked us back into the light. The vocals of Jim James were heavily affected by a sound box strapped to his stomach, they wailed atop a thudding bass and drum kit, whilst the guitars phased from speaker to speaker, creating an eerie, ethereal atmosphere. A phenomenal rock jam is over-ridden by fierce strobe lights- if the crowd wasn’t already tripping, they certainly are now. The epic outro of a crescendo of bass and drums has the crowd surging and screaming, as James’s wolf-man like appearance and vocals soar above the rukkus. Back and forth, back and forth the instruments go, building to a whirlpool of spacey dramatic sounds. James and his band wave goodbye after an hour and half of this (cloaked in a towel, clutching Gatorade), and we are released from this strange, loud, brilliant world of music.

I retire to the outside, where the air is now cool, and check to see if my ears are actually bleeding or not. They aren’t, but they are ringing and painful enough to make me go and search for earplugs.

I hang out the back for Cold Chisel, who deliver a fairly standard, Australiana rock set, churning out the classics. The band was tight and solid, and was only marred by the incredibly poor vocal quality of Jimmy Barnes.

I wandered off, mentally downed a few bourbons, and arrived at the melancholy country world of Lucinda Williams. The crowd (dressed predominately in cowboy boots, jeans, and black singlets) were screaming and yelling the entire way through William’s set. Small, blonde and rugged, she roars through her salty “Can’t Let Go’ as an opener. Her drawling, piercing vocals floor you, accompanied by wailing pedal steel guitars. It’s heavy country, when she slurs the ballad “Fruits of my Labour” it has the crowd sobbing into their Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey. Her nasal twangy, edgy vocals dominate proceedings- if you’re a fan of country music, it doesn’t get much better. Her performance was marred only by a few technical difficulties, and her own cold, which probably just served to make her vocals that much grittier.

It’s past midnight, and the patrons swell towards the exit. Everyone grins from ear to ear, it’s been a cranking start to the weekend. Just bring your earplugs.

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