Circumstance meant 3songs could only manage a visit to the very last of this year’s four day Rockpalast Crossroads Festival at the Harmonie. Modern technology meant a bit of ‘Catch Up’ was possible though, with the festival being streamed online and available to anyone from Bonn to Bondi Beach with an internet connection. My catch-up suggests that the final show may well have been the best of the bunch – Utrecht Prog-Rockers Birth of Joy and Glaswegian Phil Campbell’s band The Temperance Movement provided the fireworks – I arrived in time to see them crackle into a sparkling nights Rock.
I know I missed some excellent traditional Blues Rock by the all girl band intriguingly named Jane Lee Hooker (a RUF Records find no less) and I was certainly impressed by their fiery version of the classic ‘Wade in the Water’ online. I was also sorry not to have been in the Hall for Canadian Funk-Rocker Sate who looked great, sounded great, and had a band behind her that seemed online to be as tight as a duck’s you know what. At least my ears were fresh for the music when I arrived amongst the regular ‘Four evenings, four tickets’ brigade outside the door. I’ve been there myself – with weary eyes, buzzing ears and memories both pleasant and painful. I was fairly sure this evening would be of the former variety.
Underneath the familiar blue neon ‘Rockpalast’ sign and behind the equally familiar bobbing hair of a videocamera woman I clicked my nikon into life as the music Kicked off with a chunk of Blues infused Psychedelic Rock courtesy of Utrecht’s Birth of Joy. A power trio of the early 70’s kind (think Cream/Taste/Hendrix) but with a difference – no bass player. Interesting…
Singer /guitarist Kevin Stunnenberg launches with a vengeance into the evening with an appropriately named opener ‘The Sound’. It sort of tells you what the Band are about: A sound that recreates rather than innovates. ‘Teenybopping’ with it’s assertive refrain “WE are LIVING it!” said it all too. The trio certainly were living it – with 100% gusto. A tinkly start to ‘Devils Paradise’ had me thinking of Purple’s ‘Highway Star’ indeed most of the music made me think of something similar. Rather sadly it didn’t rip into a Richie Blackmore guitar fiesta, but instead into the sort of experimental free-for-all that tested audiences in the early 70’s before the succinct and short rock solo was invented. A Blackmore or even Hendrix style solo never materialised during the band’s set unfortunately – but you couldn’t fault the sweat soaked shirts and flailing arms for effort.
It was the first show after a four month break and these guys obviously had a lot of pent up music to Disperse. 130 kmph material thundered out with a rich and hard-hitting rhythm – and all without a bass guitar in sight. Keyboardman Gert Jan Gutman laughingly told me later that they did actually have a bass player once “for about a half hour – before we decided we didn’t need him…!” He wasn’t kidding either. Drummer Bob Hogenelst must have had some form of super lubricant on his bass drum foot-pedal to keep up that speed and power for 45 minutes. I doff my metaphorical hat to you sir – amazing work indeed. Maybe not the most innovative of band’s but surely one of the most hardworking. A bit of a breather was welcome between bands to let fraught ears and brain recover.
Part of the fun of Crossroads is discovering new band’s that others are already die-hard fans of. This evening I passed the break in the company of a couple of Temperance Movement fans in the hope of getting a little up to scratch. What I had thought was a rock-solid band of friends ala Status Quo etc proved to be rather more shifting sand. Original guitarist Luke Potashnick left a year or so ago and the drum-stool was a bit of a grey area too until recently with Damon Wilson’s name on Facebook but not his bottom on the drumstool tonight. It will be an interesting next hour for sure.
Phil Cambell is a diminutive guy who germans would best describe as ‘unaufällig’ as he takes his place at the small electric piano before me in what looks like a well worn loose Tshirt and equally well worn-in black trousers. It’s a look taylor made to tell you that The Temeperance Movement are 100% about the music. It’s an attitude that spills over into the opening of the show – taking some minutes before Campbell actually physically looks in the direction of where the cheers are coming from. Acutely aware of MC Rembert Stiewe’s words that ‘Photography is allowed for only the first three songs’ (and of course no flash) I wait with increasing anxiousness for a glance outwards as the clock ticks, but it never comes. This is going to be a long, lifeless evening I conclude – and in doing so I conclude wrongly.
First off, the opener, played gently and sparsely , is also the opener of the band’s celebrated first cd, only there it is a feisty uptempo number. Here it’s delicately spun like a fine spiders web. Could it be that Campbell, canny Scot that he is, has a few musical tricks up his sleeve at the end of which I will be saying ‘F*ck the stage costumes, long live the SONGS!’? In any event, tonight’s pared down ‘Only Friend’ knocks spots off the cd one.
Much of the opening musical salvo is from ‘White Bear’ the second release that underlined TTM as a band to watch, that put them on tours with Blackberry Smoke and ultimately The Rolling Stones themselves – and they are growing on me verse by verse.
The clincher comes when Campbell gets up onhis feet and leaves the piano to start belting out the lyrics of ‘Three Bulleits’. The unkempt hair and equally unkempt waving arms make me think of old 35mm film from Woodstock and of a young Joe Cocker. pointedly, not the Cocker I last saw at Bonn Museumsplatz at the end of his life with windmill arms, but the one who seemed as if the music was playing him, rather than the reverse at that epoc making Festival. It was a feeling I came back to many times in the next hour.
Back at the electric piano for ‘Hope I’m not losing my mind’ with shades of Peter Gabriel it’s a stand-out track of the evening andscreams out for a long and epic guitar solo. If there was something I did miss on this evening ‘saving’ Classic Rock it was the epic classic Rock guitar solos. Matt White made numerous short contributions but the cutting edge stuff was left to Paul Sayer to deliver – and whilst cutting it often was, it was always, for my taste anyway, too short.
‘The sun and moon roll around too soon’ was up my street with it’s dirty Blues groove but again the soloing went more in the direction of atmospherics. Vocally a stand-out track as was ‘On the Sludge’ that had me thinking of a Scottish hero from long ago Dan Mcafferty. Subtly the band were upping the pace with every song it seemed. By the time ‘Calling All Believers’ slammed out of the speakers I realised I was indeed listening to one fine Classic Rock band. I could both hear The Stones in the music and hear why the very same Stones chose TTM to support them.
The drumstool newly inhabitated by the solid figure of Londoner Simon Lea, a man of colourful past musically having sat on similar stools for everyone from Ronnie Wood and James Blunt to Boy George was a font of power. Nick Fyffe was calmly picking out a hard rock riff as calmly as he’d been picking out a light one only ten minutes before. Matt White was blending in splendidly rather than trying to fight over lead guitar duties. Paul Sayer may have looked like German legend Herbert Grönemeyer but he was sounding very much more like British legend Keith Richards – a man also not known for running a solo into the ground.
“We love you!” shouted a male voice from somewhere near the bar. “and we love YOU too, and all you’re crazy German friends!” retorted Campbell with a grin. The gap between band and audience had been bridged in the very best way possible – by music. Me? I’m waving my arms around, stamping my feet and thinking ‘F*ck the stage costumes, long live the SONGS!’
Concert highlights from Rockpalast here: