Can you improve on 12 legendary concerts? Julian Sas made it 13 on Saturday, and it was another memorable evening for the Harmonie record books.
By show’s start it seemed as if Holland must be empty of people for the evening. The late arrivals needed to be ‘shoe-horned’ into ever diminishing spaces around the hall. Okay, no surprise there then – it’s been the same in most previous years. The drummer has changed in that time – but even then Rob ‘Animal’ Heijne has been a staple part of the Band for eight years now, and like bassman Tenny Tahamata, it’s hard to imagine anyone else backing up the Bluesrock powerhouse that is Julian Sas.
There’s a musical hunger about all three men that is a great part of their success. Look deep in any face at any time in the over two hours they were onstage (take note you ’90 minutes and off’ bands!) and the eyes will tell you the man is in the zone, where the music takes you. The tall figure of Rob Heijne seems to tower over his drumkit (or maybe cower under him in fear at the beating it gets?) He has plenty of power for sure, but it’s the quieter moments when he almost seems to weigh each stick before bringing it down that show why he’s as good as any drummer I’ve seen this year and better than most. Tenny Tahamata, with his obligatory bowlerhat and ponytail hatband looks cooler this year than ever with a shimmering gold-top Gibson bass that at first had me thinking Julian had brought in an extra rhythm guitarist. A man who stays in the background physically and musically to deliver just the right rhythm for Julian’s guitar fireworks.
So where did the music take us? I’m reminded of an old Phil Lynott lyric: “Nothing fancy. Nothing flash. Come on baby, it’s a smash!” Julian Sas doesn’t try to re-invent the wheel with his music – he just wants to keep the blues turning. Appropriately enough there was a fair smattering of songs from the latest ‘Bound to Roll’ release which is a very good thing since it’s one of Julian’s best discs to date. Rocking on ‘Tear it Up’, rolling as on the title track or bluesing as on what Julian introduced as “Robs favourite number right now” ‘Life on the Line’.
The long set allowed plenty of room too for the classics: ‘I Believe to my Soul’ sounded so fresh it’s hard to believe the track comes from an album released thirteen years ago. ‘Devil got my Number’ from 2005’s ‘Twighlight Skies of Life’ was equally timeless. Julian straps on his Gibson T-Bird to play a tribute to that other renowned T-Bird Bluesman Johnny Winter – the Dylan classic ‘Highway 61 Revisited’ was a scorcher, and Julian’s own ‘Devil Got My Number’ fairly sizzled with the fires of hell behind it’s frantic pace.
There were a lot of T-shirts in the audience showing a ‘Holy Blues-guitar’ Trinity’ of Sas flanked by Hendrix and Gallagher and no Sas show would seem complete of course without a nod to Julians two greatest inspirations. Eyes to the heavens (or the balcony at least) from Julian and a rip-roaring take of Gallaghers ‘Meisterwerk’ ‘Shadowplay’. It’s a goosebump moment for all those of a certain age that saw the G man himself do this number in the flesh, as is ‘Bullfrog Blues’ which is now as hard to imagine missing from a Julian concert as it was a Rory one. Whilst the raw beauty of the originals is never likely to be surpassed, Julian Sas has the humility and the guitar ‘chops’ to make these minutes pure magic for the many , many, Gallagher fans here tonight. The same is equally true of Hendrix’ ‘Hey Joe’. A number ‘done to death’ by every would be hard rock superstar guitarist but one that Sas delivers with such ease and freshness that it’s hard to do anything but clap your hands at the end and roar approval.
Julian Sas might never be remembered officially in the pantheon of great Rock guitarists, but unofficially, and for those who’ve seen and heard him and his fine band, he’s one of the best. Listening to Rob Heijne laying down one of his many hypnotic rhythms on drums Julian smiles out at us and asks “You can’t keep still when he does that, can you!?” The same is true of Julian’s own fiery brand of guitar boogie. What seemed like half the population of Holland was bobbing it’s head in front of the stage, and half of Hollands Blues fans can’t be wrong can they? Rob and Julian told me later that they had a great short tour of the UK this year and will be heading over to ‘The Island’ once again for a longer period next year. I’m betting a lot of English landladies will be getting calls with dutch accents around tour time. Which is fine by me – just as long as there is space for show number fourteen in Bonn next November.