I was late for Krystle Warren and it was one of those kick-my-own-arse moments. The lady is really quite the intense woman artist – a lot of Odetta soul and sanctimony, leavened out with just enough Roberta Flack L.O.V.E. – no, that’s wrong: Krystle Warren is Krystle Warren and completely Krystle Warren. When I got there she had abandoned the mic and unplugged her guitar to bring it all down to acoustic level. She was working the room, moving amongst the diners’ tables, conducting the Basement crowd in a sweet, gospel three-part harmony which she moaned and blues-preached over. My kind of Church! – I will watch out for Krystle Warren in the future. So should you.

Eric Bibb’s big smile seemed to hit the stage before he did – that New-York-via-New-Orleans Cheshire Cat grin is as unmistakable as Bibb’s flip-brimmed hat. It’s a big smile, attached to a big man with a big heart and a lot of Soul. Anyone who has followed the roots revival of the late 20th Century to now knows this of Bibb – one of the most authentic country-blues voices in a genre that over flows with its share of the truly authentic and the merely “authentic”.

He introduced his foil and accompanist, Swedish Telecaster master Staffan Astner and the two men got to work. ‘Shingle by Shingle’ was the perfect opener – it was pure and simple Bibb: a workaday lyric simply linked to daily struggles and triumphs. Folk-blues at it best – a world away from clever-clever poetic conceits or arty straining. This is music like nature; like water in a stream or leaves blowing in the wind. Predictable, eternal.

By the end of the song we were all in Bibb’s world – maybe a world of days past, maybe a world that still exists under the noise and electronic chatter of  life today. His beautifully evocative song of the 1927 Mississippi floods – which he dedicated to the victims of our Eastern States’ recent deluges – told one story. ‘Sinner Man’ – a song his father had taught him – told another. Great chuggin’ blues such as ‘Tell Riley’ or country blues such as ‘Goin’ Down The Road Feelin’ Bad’ told of yet other real happinesses and real sads.

A word needs to be said about Staffan Astner. Armed with a Fender Telecaster and a small amp, Astner conjured whining woman, singing wind, soughing riverbank and ragged street choir to Bibb’s acoustic and voice. His playing was transparent and background – needling, embroidering, gilding – until Bibb stepped back and let him go. Whether bristling Nashville-style chicken-pickin’ or SRV-Texas blues bite, Astner delivered and delivered. His playing caused Bibb to whoop and grin (even wider) and exclaim “He’s HOT tonite!” (Also, a word needs to be said about the Fender Telecaster guitar itself – one of the iconic electric guitars of the rock age, and one of the simplest – and in the hands of a humble virtuoso such as Staffan Astner, one of the most exciting and expressive…)

Bibb held the audience with nothing but a simple message and his obvious joy in this music. He dedicated a song to a young couple in the Basement crowd who were celebrating their first anniversary; the song was ‘Don’t Ever Let Nobody Drag Your Spirit Down’, an ancient message to young love. All around me, people – young old bankers musos wild cool men women – were charmed and uplifted by Bibb. And we all walked out with a little more spirit than we had walked in with that humid Sydney night.

Photos by Katja Liebing. Check out Katja Liebing’s great shots of Eric’s gig here

Published March 2012 on theorangepress.net

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