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Gig Review: Himalayan Blues Festival @ Blue Frog – 3rd Nov 2011

Gettin’ high on the blues @ Blue Frog

There is something very special about watching a live blues performance at Blue Frog. Sure, you might say, it’s all in the name. Blues, Blue Frog… ribbit! But no, this feeling goes beyond nomenclature. For some reason, one can truly get a sense of belonging by being here on a weeknight, listening to artists singin’ the blues… for a few hours, at the end of a very long and hard day, this is the perfect sense of escapism one needs to extrude oneself from the mundane routines of life.

There were two bands playing on this night, both of whom will be performing at the Himalayan Blues Festival in Kathmandu, Nepal, from November 10 – 12. Lets just say that all of us in Mumbai who witnessed them were truly blessed to have been at Blue Frog, albeit for only a few moments.

Izzy and Chris

Hailing from the United States, this duo comprised Izzy on the harmonica and Chris on acoustic guitar and vocals. And that was all they needed to give us a feel of real American bluegrass. No fancy electronics, no theatrical stage shows, no props, no frills. Straight up straightforward blues, straight from the heart of West Virginia (which is where Chris grew up).

They began right away with a couple of mid-to-fast tempo melodies, Chris’s twangy guitaring and singing interspersed with Izzy’s shaky vibratos. Chris’s southern drawl, especially when he asked the audience – “Havin’ a good time, y’all? ” was the perfect element needed to add charm and authenticity to their music.

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Within the one hour that Izzy and Chris played for us, Izzy explained how Chris was someone who believes in living one day at a time – “You guys might think us Americans have all kindsa money. Take Chris here – this feller flew here with only twenty bucks in his pocket!” Chris merely nodded along and smiled, and continued playing. The sound of their music was about as genuine as it could get, with every little bend in the strings being matched by overdraws on Izzy’s harmonica.

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Listening to them, it felt like we were in a different time and place altogether … as if it was the background music from one of Mark Twain’s novels – you could practically visualize little kids in dungarees and hats chasing each other in fields full of tall grass!

Jimi Hocking’s Blues Machine

If Izzy and Chris’s music took us back in time, Jimi Hocking’s trio from Melbourne, Australia brought us right back to the present. He warned us in the beginning – “Beware folks, we’re an electric band. It might just get a lil’ loud in here. You sure you can handle that?” – and he played a few chords which brought everyone up to speed – “ ‘course you can!” And with that, the band began churning out blues with such finesse that you really begin to doubt if they’re actually Australian.  Because really, who knew that the men down under could play the blues so effortlessly?

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Jimi, while tuning his guitar with one hand and waving to the onlookers with the other, explained that he had come down to India specifically to seduce Anoushka Shankar – “Hell, I even bought my own sitar and everything! You sure she isn’t out there in the audience?” Amidst much laughter, one couldn’t help but notice that the sheer amount of energy emanated by this Blues Machine was infusing everyone with so much pleasure, that a lot of people actually left behind sumptuous food and cushy seats to join the crowd on the floor, swaying and swooning to Jimi’s flashy guitar playing.

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Always the charmer, Jimi talked about how he had picked up the guitar from a very tender age, after seeing Stevie Ray Vaughn perform live in Melbourne. And one can see Vaughn’s legendary influences within Hocking’s guitaring, as his techniques rely primarily on the use of his own fingers – no effects, no distortion, no pedals. Seeing everyone nodding along jovially to the band’s rocksteady beats, Jimi couldn’t help but share his amusement – “You guys are probably thinkin’ this guy’s a really happy fellow, eh? Yeah, ever heard of the fellow who’s married to a nice faithful wife, and his loyal dog comes back and his truck runs just fine, singin’ the blues?

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Perhaps the highlight of this night, besides Jimi’s stage presence and flawless musicianship was the effect their music had on the audience. When they started playing covers of old classics from the 60s and 70s, some of the more mature members within’ the audience jumped right out of their booths, dancing away in glee, as if they were in their teens again. As soon as Jimi transitioned over to another number, a number of younger metalheads walked right up to the stage, inches away from Jimi, trying to grasp the reality of Jimi’s fretboard fingerplay, as he practically shredded away at the strings, enrapturing the whole crowd with blitzkrieg blues. It was especially funny to see the metalheads indulge in headbanging as Jimi ended the performance by playing covers of Jimi Hendrix’s “Hey Joe”, Ram Jam’s “Black Betty” and ZZ Top’s “La grange.” The crowd was in complete sync with the music that night; why, people even changed the angle at which they bobbed their heads the instant Jimi switched over to a different octave.

Quite honestly, Jimi Hocking’s Blues Machine might just be the next most addictive thing to come out of Australia after Tim Tams!

Photo Credits: Parizad D.

Special Thanks: Oneil @ Blue Frog, for charging my phone 🙂

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