On Saturday night, as storms blew across the city and with lighting carving across the sky, C.W. Stoneking’s national tour came to close with a sold out show at Fremantle Arts Centre. To me it seemed a fitting prelude for an artist as idiosyncratic and otherworldly as Stoneking. Listening to Stoneking is like listening to music from another time, and another place. You can almost close your eyes and hear the sounds of paddle steamers on the Mississippi delta or the bustle of a Memphis street. Simply put Stoneking is something else.
Local singer-songwriter Peter Bibby was tasked with warming up the early arrivals. It proved to be an entertaining set; with Bibby working through a set of songs populated by a cast of hobos, delinquents, drugs and kids trying to find “love” on the streets of Midland, Perth and beyond. Delivered with a thick aussie twang, with a touch of Paul Kelly (to me anyway), the songs were witty, rough and kinda poetic. I’m certainly going to be keeping my eye for his record from now on.
Stoneking attracts a pretty diverse kind of crowd. His sound, and indeed his whole image, is unabashedly “retro”; he looks and sounds like a bluesman from the 20s and 30s. It’s a sound and style that is steeped in the traditions of blues and country; but it never feels hokey or overly nostalgic.
Given his sound it’s not unsurprising that he attracts the older listener; though given that all music is pretty much at our finger tips now thanks to the internet; it’s not too surprising there were plenty of younger “hipster” types in attendance (of which I’m undoubtedly one) and I’m pretty sure I saw a child or two in the audience as well. Guess good music really does transcend those generational groups.
Plenty of songs from the latest record Gon’ Boogaloo got an airing; with “How Long” and “The Zombie” providing a fantastic Boogaloo one-two to kick start the set. Stoneking reached back into his previous records as well, especially Jungle Blues, with “Brave Son of America” and “Jailhouse Blues” being just two of the highlights; the latter performed solo and providing a sublime finish to the set. Other highlights included “On the Desert Island”, and a beautiful cover of The Soul Stirrers classic “He’s Been A Shelter to Me” which really showcased Vika and Linda Bull’s vocal talents.
With his strange hybrid Australian/American drawl and witty asides between songs, Stoneking proved to be an entertaining and captivating performer; whether singing or educating the audience about the venues history as a women’s asylum; or Jimmy Rodger’s role in African tribal mythology, Stoneking had the audience under his spell; he managed to get a few of them yodelling along to Jungle Blues’ “Talking Lion Blues” too.
This was my first experience seeing C.W. Stoneking live; and it’s safe to say unless he never tours again I’m going to make sure it’s not my last. It was utterly entertaining and really like little else I’ve seen live, outside of New Orleans.