If you visit my page regularly and enjoy it (which I hope you do!) then the lady in this review is someone you should thank. In 2005 I caught Ana Popovic on the RUF Blues Caravan and wanted to tell the World how great she was. It led me to helping run her online fan-site and got me writing about music on the web. Ten years later and Ana is living in America and playing gigs with Buddy Guy. Seems the World caught on to my ‘Geheim Tip’ for success. Indeed Ana is so popular in the US these days that Thursdays show at the Rhein Energie Stadion (Green Club Lounge) in Cologne was part of a very brief European Tour before Christmas. A nice present for Ana’s many European fans all the same though.
I caught a lot of shows by Ana over the five or six years following that Blues Caravan show. The three piece band became a four piece, changed personnel and rocked louder every season. A high point was seeing Ana support BB King at the Museumsplatz. Then in 2012 came a move to the USA and the band over there got bigger still, as did the gigs. The shows in Bonn stopped and I lost touch a little.
Fast forward to Thursday at 6pm. My ‘partner in crime’ from those days on the fan site Horst and myself have been staring at the Peek & Cloppenberg building in Cologne Centre for ten minutes with only Aynsley Lister on the car player for company. We are beginning to think that rather than a half hour early we will be a half hour late for the show at Rhein Energie Stadion. Ah, I should point out that it’s not exactly the Stadium itself we are headed for (where Queen and Rhiannon are scheduled to play next year) but the hospitality Lounge – or ‘GreenClub’ as it’s called. We do have a football match atmosphere in the air though because our team is playing this evening.
It’s been a while since Ana’s European APB have played together. Last year bassist Ronnie Jonker had a young son to spend time with, so this is the first APB show for him in a while although his own band ‘Toaster’ have been busy recording. Fortunately Jonker and drummer Stephane Avellaneda are almost telepathic musically. I say fortunately, because they too have been staring at stationery traffic out on the outskirts of Weihnachtsmarkt packed Cologne, and a proper soundcheck becomes impossible – had they continued any longer the audience standing in the freezing cold outside the stadium entrance may well have been decimated by frostbite.
It’s quite amazing when Avellaneda taps his drumsticks three times together and the band roll into ‘Can you feel the Heat’ like a Formula 1 car stepping off the grid. This is the first show of the tour so I wonder is it possible to get tighter than this? There are immediate smiles all round from Jonker, Avellaneda and Hammond Maestro Michele Papadia. It will take something very special to divert my attention – but of course they have something very special in the fine shape of Ana Popovic.
Ana’s legs seem longer than ever, maybe it’s the low stage, or those high heeled black shoes she’s wearing (boots seems a harsh word for something so fine). It could be the first time I’ve seen her play without her trademark silver armband, maybe it used to slow her down even because her playing this evening seems faster than before – or maybe that’s because she wants to, needs to, play her Strats after travelling.
The choice of material is interesting. There’s nothing remaining from the days of the live at Milkweg CD days, not even ‘Navajo Moon’. Most of the music comes from more recent offerings like ‘Can’t Stand The Heat’ although there is a run through of a favourite from my own favourite APB disc in the fine rocking form of ‘Hold On’ from ‘Still Making History’.
There are nods to The Rolling Stones and also to Hendrix (Ana is appearing once more on the ‘Experience Hendrix’ Tour soon with Buddy Guy, Zakk Wylde, Kenny Wayne Shepherd and a host of Rock Luminaries. But the evening’s real highlight for me isn’t about Jagger or Hendrix it’s about Milton. Not the poet, but the father of Ana, without whom, in more ways than one, Ana would not be playing for us this evening. It was her father’s record collection that got Ana into the Blues along with hearing him play music with colleagues at home. As her website puts it: “Finally, at 15, Ana picks up her father’s guitar”.
Milton Popovic actually has an enjoyable easy going style about him as is evident on the CD he and Ana did ‘Blue Room’ and he gets loud applause after an obviously nervous start that wasn’t entirely due to his very first appearance onstage with Ana. “We got here so late that I didn’t even have time to practice with the band before the show” he laughs with obvious relief afterwards. Ana jokingly refers to his style as ‘slow’ and probably very popular with the older members of the audience. I liked it – and yes Ana, I believe to this day that Clapton is God. Milton Popovic might not be God but I did enjoy the lighter stuff on the CD and tonight’s ‘Somebody’ is a highlight with Ana and father sharing a microphone.
Towards shows end I stop camera duties and take a walk round the Greenclub hall. The low ceiling ensures that the sound goes straight to the ears of those inside from all corners and it’s a Blues Rock sound for sure. Rockier than I remember even from the shows in 2010 and 2011. Certainly a different style from the light, often jazz tinged, melodies I heard from the trio days. No problem for me as I always loved this Rockband formation. I imagine the sound of her American band is somewhat different, especially when the horn section is included. No doubts though that Ana’s slide playing is better than ever and her voice is slightly deeper, rawer and better in a Blues soaked way than it has ever been.
It’s been a long days travelling for Ana and the band who are over for a short European tour. The clock is ticking towards midnight and a clearly tired Ana is enjoying a glass of red wine with her mother. Father Milton is still smiling and looks as if the music has re-energized him whilst everyone else is ready for the hotel and bed. Horst and I say our goodbyes and Aynsley Lister accompanies us on the player for the journey back.
Part of me is thinking that this evenings show wasn’t where Ana is now musically. She has a new CD due out next year with an all American band in Memphis. For those of you who like me enjoy your Blues with a big shot of Rock and a little mix of Funk though, the APB – European style – are the business. Jonker and Avellaneda are rock solid as a rhythm section and Papadia knows how to colour the music as icing on the cake. Ana herself is playing and singing better than ever and the only thing I miss about the old days is the fact that I was younger then.