|Seasick Steve (right), Mangawhai Tavern, 29 December 2012|
29 December 2012
On Saturday I went with Bruce to the Mangawhai Tavern, a small seaside pub venue near Wellsford, to see American-born and Norway-based septuagenarian blues electric guitarist Seasick Steve. His late-bloomer road to fame is particularly pleasing, having been catapulted into popularity after a single performance on the BBC's Jools Holland New Year Hootenanny at the end of 2006 (watch it!). That performance, in particular his stomping rendition of Dog House Boogie that got the crowd stomping, attracted all the right sorts of attention and his many return visits to the show have gained him a wide audience for his electrified blues-rock, which is characterised by pile-driving dirty Southern riffs, a mean and swampy rhythm feel and gravely vocals delivering wry lyrics.
Baseball-capped and sporting a long, white beard, Seasick Steve looks likely to be cast as a mechanic in the Dukes of Hazzard or perhaps as an extra member of the Foggy Bottom Boys. But this seemingly slight and elderly fellow takes pleasure in making a great deal of noise, tapping into generations of blues heritage and adding plenty of rock references. (It's not surprising that his new celebrity mates include rock stars like Jack White, Dave Grohl and John Paul Jones).
Offering thanks for the strong attendance, Steve earned cheers from the local audience by mentioning that his father had been stationed in New Zealand during WW2 and that he had therefore always wanted to visit. So, a diplomat as well as a rock star.
Live and in person, Seasick Steve's gig is peppered with crunchy guitar licks, howling reverb, and the occasional strut around the stage as a tune is pared back to the barest essentials before bursting forth into another electric onslaught. He definitely knows how to work a song, commencing a number on his own with a pounding rhythm and then kicking it into another gear by adding his drummer sidekick from offstage, or building a series of outros, each more violent and frenetic than the last, into a crescendo of feedback noise. Incidentally, the aforementioned drummer, a white-haired gent perhaps of a similar vintage to Steve, was every bit the musical match for the guitarist, and played a superb set. It just goes to show that two gentlemen of pensionable age don't have to play nice to get attention!
Interview: Kim Hill interviews Seasick Steve, 22 December 2012: