Words & Images by: Alex Anastas
Ash Grunwald :: 05.31.09 :: The Metro Theatre :: Sydney, New South Wales, Australia
As we strolled into Sydney's downtown Metro Theatre the soothing sounds of "Three Little Birds" came over the PA. Mr. Marley's familiar single most definitely set the tempo for the evening as minimalist roots-rock was the dish on offer from the three exceptionally divergent artists to come. We expertly swooped through the sparsely populated floor of the CBD (Central Business District) venue and planted roots along the front rail. Soon acoustic soul-singer Saritah started things off nicely with a short 30 minute set of melodically massaging, dubbed-out reggae, oozing reverb and choice loops on both her guitar and vocals. South Korean born but raised here in Australia, her dreadie-mama, slinky energy is well received on the festival circuit here but also in Asia, Europe and North America. Keep an eye out for this lovely songbird, but remember you heard it here first!
After a short stage re-shuffling, the relatively unknown Cats Are Black took their positions. They nervously disclosed this to be only their twelfth show after first forming in December to write all of seven songs! Featuring countrified brothers Matty (acoustic guitar, vocals) and Andy Woo (drums), this duo play low profile, lonesome troubadour blues that would have both J.R. Cash and The Boss stomping along. Matty Woo even employed the smallest harmonica this writer has ever seen, previously hidden under his flannel shirt, to add textures to "Too Little, Too Late." Andy then introduced his demurely donned girlfriend Frankie on harmony vocals, proudly stating that they like "keeping it all in the family." As the talkative crowd slowly grew in numbers, the now trio ran through their admittedly miniscule catalogue before slipping off stage so that "Big ol' Ash, the nicest guy in the music biz" could take the reins.
Before the physically imposing main act could indeed assume his throne high above the masses, we were treated to a special impromptu taping of The Chaser's War on Everything. Their notorious prankster, Chas Licciardello, sat on a folding chair center stage with a Mac Book and mic in hand, and ran through a quick drunken take on Nirvana's "Nobody Knows I'm New Wave." As expected with this improv troop, I'm not sure where this will be slotted into their exceedingly popular Australian TV show, but everyone in attendance seemed to be quite pleased to witness the random moment.
With flowing locks of dread wrapped around his dome and commandingly height of over 6'2", Ash Grunwald finally took the stage after 10:30 pm to a booming reception from the now packed room. Hailing from the outskirts of Melbourne, Grunwald's music deeply warms with its thunderously percussive, elemental rhythms ingrained in the 12-bar blues of the American music he so admires. Using a seated stomp-box setup complete with cymbal-stomps and plenty of pedals, Grunwald used his all-metal dobro to play two solo warm-up tunes before inviting out bandmates Benny Owen (drums, percussion) and Kanchana Karunaratna (turntables, percussion). Grunwald never lets his sound fall stagnant whilst adeptly utilizing the occasional distorted vocal tone that would make Les Claypool himself stand up and take notice. After a few more numbers, the deafeningly loud players, now joined by Saritah on vocals, laid down the popular single off Ash Grunwald's album of the same title, "Fish Out of Water." Winner of 2009 Australian Blues Music Award's Song of the Year and sitting at number five on the Australian Indie Music Blues & Roots Charts, this composition featured raw, deftly skilled plucking from the smiling axe-man and some unconventional use of a car door and hammer by drummer Owen. This sonic bombardment of blues pleasantries would not be complete without a telling of Ash's "altercation with the devil," the thick and sweaty "Devil Called Me a Liar." This tune, along with many others like it played throughout the evening, would be appropriate on a blues aficionado's playlist featuring the likes of Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and even the innovator himself, Robert Johnson.
| Ash Grunwald :: 05.31.09 :: Australia|
Having been used to hearing Ash Grunwald's songs swimming high over the crowd at perennial summer festival stops, this indoor gig was thoroughly fresh, debaucherous and stimulating, leaving those wandering out into the Sydney night with satisfied souls and big, shiny eyes.
JamBase | Australia
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