I had been looking forward to this one all year. Oli Brown and Dana Fuchs on the same bill seemed like a dream for cash conscious Blues fans. Two musicians who always give their all onstage yet seem to be different every time I see them. This time Dana had new songs and Oli a new haircut, but both had music and musicians backing them guaranteed to deliver super music at the Harmonie.
In England Dana Fuchs was support for Oli Brown but here in Germany it’s Oli who opens the evening promptly at 7pm with a set that well and truly rocked. Kicking off with the title track from his last CD ‘Here I Am’ it’s pretty clear that the Jazz/Blues sound of the early albums isn’t going to get much of a look in this evening, and so it proves. Oli plays a mean lead guitar, if not as mean as the Walter Trouts and Joe Bonamassas of this world, but what made the early Oli Brown music so special to me was that slight and subtle reggae sound he got from playing lead with a thumb pick on tracks like ‘Roxanne’. I rather miss it amongst the unsubtle Rock riffs, but as Oli explained later though, the band have been playing the rockier songs in some large venues lately, and given the short support slot and powerhouse performance of Dan Fuchs, it seemed the Rockier approach was the ideal way to create a memorable impression in a short time.
Outside of ‘Speechless’ most of the set came from Oli Browns ‘Here I Am’ disc, and whilst it’s a good rock album I miss the subtle jazz influence of the earlier discs. I remember a couple of years ago (after the Blues Caravan with Joanne Shaw Taylor and Erja Lytinnen) Oli keenly telling me to check out Jazzman Chris Cain and I sort of miss that Oli Brown. He’s a bit older since then of course and I joked to him later that he’s been voted best new Young Artist in the British Blues Awards several times in a row now. To which he conceded that recently people have taken to saying what a wonderful inspiration he is for young musicians – and making him feel old.
There’s no doubting the sincerity of Oli Browns music, or the quality of his Band though. Wayne Proctor on drums has made as many appearances in the Blues Awards as Oli himself, and quite rightly so with his rock-steady backbeat, but I was a bit non-plussed as to why he seemed to change snare drum after almost every song though. Answers please to 3SongsBonn. And what was that mini drum attached to the main bass drum? Wayne Proctor, Man of Mystery. Scott Burns was for me a new bassist but had something of Al Pacino about his appearance that demanded attention as much for his playing as for the fear of waking up with a horses head in your bed. Super Band, super music, and I loved the moving version of Donny Hathaways ‘I Love You More Than You’ll Ever Know’. A powerful version of The Black Keys song ‘Next Girl’ and his own ‘You Can Only Blame Yourself’ (which sounded almost like Led Zeppelin) are what Oli Brown is about right now it seems. Still one of the best and one of the nicest musicians out there though, and it is true to say that you need to make a hefty mark as support to be remembered after after this evenings main attraction.
The Church of Rock n Roll was back, and in fine form. Dana Fuchs simply has one of the best rock voices in music ever – and I include Janis Joplin in that ‘ever’ too. I’ve often seen bands give less than 100% onstage (no names, you know who you are!) but rarely does anyone give 120% like Dana does. In my Interview with Dana Fuchs last year she explained the importance of a good voice coach and she proved it on Sunday. She really deserves a place on the Big Stages more often – and her appearance supporting Joe Cocker at Museumsplatz was testimony to that.
Maybe Danas powerhouse sound would play havoc with the stain-glass windows, but her presentation would fit well into the Kulturkirche in Cologne – a perfect setting for ‘Dana’s Church of Love’. She certainly pulls no punches in her between songs banter – who else would tackle the childhood memories of being warned of the perils of self-abuse when decrying the nonsense so often spouted by religious zealots? The zealots who also warn that “We’re all going to hell for playing and listening to Rock music” as Dana laughed, before adding that last time she said that onstage an amp started smoking behind her.
As with Oli Brown, Dana has a superb band behind her. Bob Fridzema is the new man on Keyboards and a super player he is too – especially at adding that church organ sound to Dana’s presence onstage. Walter Latupeirissa will be known to many from his work with the Snowy White Band. Walter has a super feel for the music and a calming air behind the hurricane that is Dana Fuchs herself. Jon Diamond on guitar always amazes me in that I should know how good he is by now but he always picks the perfect line between high emotion and overkill. Truly a diamond where guitar-men go, and really underestimated by anyone who hasn’t seen him onstage with Dana. In short, even without it’s amazing singer, this band ROCKS!
Much of the set this evening was given to the last ‘Love to Beg’ disc but the good news is that a new one is on the way next year, and the even better news was that we got to hear some tasters from it at The Harmonie, on the evidence of which it could be even better than the last disc, which was one of my favourites of the year. Amongst the new disc tasters was ‘So Hard To Move’, very likely a nod to the pain she felt with the passing of her brother Don after a fight against Cancer. It’s a delicate number with lyrics that catch the heartstrings without feeling like they’re sugar coated. The best of the new for me though concerned itself with the dangers of thinking too much – a wonderously chunky Wild West riff as backdrop for lyrics about insanity – ‘Rodents in the Attic’ with the glorious refrain: “got a bucket by the nightstand, to catch the leaking rain”. Ah, the perils of thinking to excess… Which is what a lot of Americans do come election time of course. Who will be a good President? Dana has her own ideal candidate, who unfortunately isn’t running: ‘Superman’ (or maybe Supergirl?) whoever can save the US, and indeed as Dana pointed out, the whole World.
As with Oli Browns set, I found myself missing favourite songs that a shared Bill necessitated. I Particularly missed ‘Moment Away’ still for me the quintessential song about 9/11. No room either for ‘Songbird’ this time around. Indeed there seemed so little time for so many great songs that Dana had the audience calling out what they wanted for the encores. ‘I’d Rather Go Blind’ in honour of the late and legendary Etta James is a tour-de-force for Dana’s vocal talents and a Dana Fuchs concert without the ferocious attack of Lennon & McCartneys ‘Helter Skelter’ would certainly be lacking.
Truth to tell, what seemed the strength of the evening – a glorious double bill – turned out to be the weakness. Two musicians who have more great songs than a split double bill will allow. Hopefully both will be back again separately before too long, each with full sets that they (and the audience) deserve.