Bordeaux’s Relache Festival has quickly carved an important niche on the Euro Summer Blues Festival circuit. It’s an annual umbrella for two months worth of rock/blues/soul and related music in different parts of the city.
Tonight we’re treated to the ambient reverb of Italian multi-instrumentalist Elli de Mon, the primal thrash punk blues of keyboard player James Leg (aka former Black Diamond Heavies hell raiser John Wesley Myers), the celebratory, Latino tinged R&B of Spanish multi-instrumental combo The Limboos and the subtle blues, boogie and the husky voiced Florida blues guitarist Shelwyn Birchwood.
There’s a lot to be said for public bandstands, going all the way back to Victorian era and the enduring appeal of brass bands. And here in fast changing landscape of the northern Bordeaux suburb of Bacalan and tucked away in the shadow of the brand spanking new Cite Du Vin (wine museum), is an indoor and outdoor artists enclave called Les Vivres de l’ Art, complete with a bandstand that tonight is tested to its limits.
It all starts sedately enough with the ambient wash of Italian multi- instrumentalist Eli de Mon. Armed with a welter of guitars, a bass drum and a sitar, she lays down one track and then immediately plays over the top of that, in a layered sound that explores ambient and garage rock, with hints of psychedelia, all bathed in lashing of echo reverb
Her repeated slide drones and an insistent percussive backbeat creates a hypnotic effect, while the subtle tempo changes and shifting tonal emphasis makes for a dynamic set that climaxes with the use of a sitar.
At first her search for an eastern drone on the sitar appears to be a mistake, as she’s all but hidden behind her bass drum. Then as she switches back to guitar, the sitar monetarily drops out the mix. Happily it reappears again as part of an enveloping wall of sound, which eventually brings her a deserved warm reception from the attentive crowd.
And so to James Leg, who is the wild-card of the evening. His spontaneous performance is one step away from physical theatre, but he lives for the moment in true rock and roll style.
He’s the man dressed in black on a mild sunny evening. He wisely eschews his trilby before hitting the stage with such ferocity that his shades fly in the flower beds before the first number is finished.
He bangs hell out of a weathered electric piano, shaping his distorted tones with occasional wah-wah effects. The pedals are placed sufficiently far apart to necessitate a frequently extended right leg, while he simultaneously leans vertically over the top of his keys.
His one man performance art evokes Keith Emerson and The Nice era, while his growled primal vocals resemble Tom Waits at his darkest, but are closer to Lemmy when he rocks out. When he twice asks the sound crew for more on his vocal, it’s like the cry of a drowning man asking for a bucket of water!
Together with Mat Gaz – a drummer who understands the notion of shaping a song while somehow hauling his partner back into the arrangement – the duo simply kick ass.
It’s all best exemplified by the relentless drive and buzz tone of ‘Can’t Stop Thinking About It’, while ‘A Forest’ owes much to the late Doors keyboard man Ray Manzerek, except that even Jim Morrison would have found it hard to match Leg’s Howlin’ Wolf style growl.
He launches himself into yet more caustic red raw blues, boogie and garage rock and converts many new believers to the church of James Leg’s Trash Blues.
Spanish R&B outfit The Limboos are almost a light relief, except they have their own party agenda to attend to. They do so with the help of ripping baritone sax player Dani Niño, who earns a knowing smile from Berklee college veteran and Selwyn’s Birchwood sax man Regi Oliver.
The Limboos mine familiar territory from 50’s style R&B to the fat Latino groove of songs like ‘Mambo Space’, on which guitarist Roi Fontoira’s incisive figures fly into the night over a locked-in rhythm section.
The Limboos twist and turn their set in unexpected ways. They’re one part slick groove merchants, one part party animals, and one part a real authentic R&B band with a nod towards rock & roll. Tonight they connect with the crowd in the best way possible, as everyone dances.
This leaves just enough time before some unexpected rain to catch Alligator recording artist Selwyn Birchwood, who charms the crowd with his understated charisma, a husky voice, some eloquent conversational guitar and crowd pleasing showmanship.
His stellar band matches him all the way, giving him plenty of options with which to showcase his chops.
Regi Oliver fills the night air with deeply wrought tones, interwoven with Birchwood’s own expansive figures. The crowd respond and even a heavy downpour can’t dampen a real triumph.
Tonight the blues genre has been stretched, tried, tested and ultimately brought back to a recognisable form by Selwyn Birchwood, a rising blues star who is carving out his own style.
On the evidence of this broad based bill, contemporary blues is in the rudest of health and as Selwyn’s current album title suggests ‘Don’t Call No Ambulance’.
Review by Pete Feenstra
Photos except 1 and 5 by Anne Pioton
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