For those who enjoyed the stunning Rockpalast show in April 2008 it had been a long wait. Finally though the King of the electric resonator guitar was back in town with his band ’Big Motor’ and, as the name suggests, they roared through a frantic set at the Harmonie.
“Does that sound good to you?” asks Eric Sardinas after a short warm up on one of his famed and battered resonator guitars. The cheer of approval didn’t stop him edging the volume control of his Marshall amp a little further clockwise. Yep, they could certainly hear at the back. A few more songs, a few more nudges clockwise and the addition of Levell Price’s meaty bass licks and Chris Fraziers attempts to hammer through the skin of his bass drum, and I would guess that they could hear the frenetic instrumental ‘Texola’ in the basement of the Fiddlers a block away, even if it was Karaoke night.
It’s sort of an odd contradiction that Sardinas is turning up the electricity on an instrument that was itself initially introduced sans electricity to counteract the burgeoning ’noise’ of horns and drums that threatened to drown out the lowly Blues man’s humble acoustic in pre-electric days. I mean, isn’t that why Leo Fender developed his rather wonderful six stringed guitar with a cable and plug on it? Except that the best vintage Gibson or Strat couldn’t make the sounds that Mr Sardinas is making this evening.
Maybe it’s precisely because the instrument isn’t the option that it once was for making oneself heard in a noisy bar that Sardinas has had to ‘re-invent’ it. The inclusion early on of Robert Johnson’s ‘Hellhound on my Trail’ played on an electrified version of the ‘weapon of choice’ for such venerated Blues pioneers as Bukka White and Son House certainly was in keeping with the Eric Sardinas philosophy of ‘Respect Tradition’. Stripped bare of the drums and bass, the volume level dips but the emotion dial gets ripped all the way to max as Sardinas beats the floor furiously with his Texan boots and struts to the stage edge – tassles of his coat tails flying out like a proud peacock saying ‘hey babe, I’m here, and I’m something else!‘ The old classic is also a perfect workout for ‘The Preaching Pipe’ as Sardinas names the famous brass bottle neck snug on the little finger of his left hand. It’s certainly an early high point of the set, and when bassman Levell Price gives us the mouth-watering news that we’re going to take a musical stroll through Eric’s recorded history this evening it seems as if the heaving crowd are going to have a long night of fun trying to dance in the tight corners they’ve wedged into to get in front of the stage.
A rough n ready version of Muddy’s ‘Can’t be Satisfied’ is further proof that this is a great evening to be in Endenich. “This ones about Whiskey” smiles Eric before launching into my personal favourite track of the evening ‘Down to Whiskey’ which struts along majestically and drummer Frazier is so caught up in the moment that he forgets the low ceiling above him and throws a stick above his head only to see it ricochet off the lighting rig.
Before we know it the band are continuing the boogie and the volume into ‘Treat Me Right’ but sadly also carrying us towards the end of the evening. When they leave the stage my ears are ringing like I’m in a taxi-cab call centre on New Years Eve. By now I’ve retreated upstairs to the balcony where I can check the fillings in my teeth. Cries of ‘Zugabe’ bring Eric, Levell and Chris back onstage. Sardinas is back at the amplifier. Can it really be? Is it actually possible that he just turned it UP again?! They fly through a jaw dropping (and teeth clattering) version of ‘Behind the Eight’ from the new CD and it’s all over. For five minutes I enjoy the silence. Then I realize it’s only 9.50pm and they’re not coming back. Rather short, very sweet and extremely LOUD. The youngsters will be off to a disco now – I’m off home to bed. Make that dental appointment tomorrow. Haven’t had this problem since Deep Purple – and there were five of them. Eric Sardinas might one day be the first act to ever be banned from our local Folk Club for being too loud without electricity. So there you go : An excellent show. Should have been longer, could have been quieter, WAS worth the visit to hear a real master of his instrument. Eric Sardinas proves that he truly Respects tradition – but Robert Johnson never needed to be loud to be cool and neither do you.