A festival like WOMADelaide is not for the faint hearted. I suppose no festival is, really. But WOMADelaide is different. Other music festivals take a lot out of you physically, I was prepared for that. What I wasn’t ready for, was the rollercoaster of feels you get moving from soulful dirges into rocking blues into 80s hippie punk into chest pumping reggae. It really gives your emotions a workout.
Friday night saw the return of the Violent Femmes to Australia. And what a triumphant return it was. Much to everyone’s surprise they opened the set with “Blister In The Sun”. A master stroke really, because from that moment on, the absolute capacity crowd in front of Stage 2 were in constant motion – ranging from flat out head banging to substance fuelled ethereal swaying. For just one moment I got a sense of what it must have been like a Woodstock. The ‘Femmes powered through all their hits, including “Gone Daddy Gone”, “American Music”, “Kiss Off” and to close the show, “Add It Up”.
Musically, Brian Ritchie always was and remains the standout. What that man can’t do with an acoustic bass isn’t worth writing about. Of course, as Gordon Gano pointed out, his talents don’t end there. Xylophone and Cajon also made their way into his repertoire on this particular muggy Adelaide evening, and we were all the better for it. Gordon’s voice has lost none of its trademark twang. I allowed myself a smile as the opening refrain of “Add It Up” instantly transported the punters back to 1983.
Day two of the festival brought more humidity and even more amazing music. After witnessing a stirring vocal performance by New Zealand blues artist Radical Son on the Novatech stage, I made my way to the aptly named Zoo stage (because it’s adjacent the entrance to Adelaide Zoo) to take in a local band whom I’d not heard before. The Wasted Wanderers are a three piece blues rock outfit from Adelaide. Their core membership consists of guitar, bass and drums. Saturday’s performance saw the addition of two female back-up vocalists, an acoustic guitar and some keys. The music is a hybrid blues/pub rock combination. Some tunes remind you of Thirsty Merc while front man Dusty Lee’s talent is easily comparable to that of James Bay. By the time they’d reached their cover of The Beatle’s “I’ve Got A Feeling”, the crowd had abandoned their easy chairs and were in full hip-swinging mode.
From under the Moreton Bay Figs and into the blazing afternoon sun. As The Strides took to Stage 2 and opened their set with nearly fifteen minutes of blistering instrumental reggae improvisation, you’d have had to work hard to convince me we weren’t in Jamaica. For the next hour I was entranced. Vocalist Ras Roni paints a beautiful picture with his lyrics and the reggae rap support he receives from MC LTL GZeus and Eddie “Blacker” Conteh is mesmerizing. I didn’t even know I liked reggae music.
The rythym section is held together expertly by drummer Carlos Adura and bassist Rory Brown seems to be in his own world for the whole performance. But he never misses a slap or pick. Guitarist Matt Smith tends to be heard and not seen, until he breaks into a mind bending solo that fuses together the best of Rock, Reggae and R’n’B guitar. Brass section members Nick Garbett and Jeremy Rose sway their way through the entire show, transitioning effortlessly from long crescendo notes into short hard reggae stabs. Dan Pliner on keys provides the icing on the reggae cake to complete and phenomenally sharp live sound. If you’ve never heard live reggae my advice is to start with The Strides. They’ll convert you within minutes.