In amongst the Jazz and cover bands something stirs at the Restaurant Rheinaue. It’s toe tapping, it’s fun and it’s Blue!
Bonita and the Blues Shacks are back in town and if someone hadn’t told me they were from Hildesheim I would never have guessed they hailed from this side of the ocean. Get your dancing shoes on for some guitar thumping, harp wailing Jump Blues at it’s finest.
The Blues Shacks are no newcomers to Bonn and indeed I even reviewed their 2014 Release ‘Businessmen’ on this very website a few years back. I remarked that it was an excellent disc that faithfully recreated the Jump Blues style and indeed the style of many of the major electric blues players from the 40’s onwards. I was thinking on the CD that they needed an ‘edge’ to the music somewhere. Step in Bonita Niessen, a young lady who moved here from Capetown as an Au-pair in 1996 and by 1997 was appearing live with Til Bronner. Twenty years down the line and that same lady is commanding audiences as if she was born to it.
The evening’s music is split into three sections and truth to tell part one is well executed but somewhat lifeless. Partly it’s down to the audience. I was certainly wondering at 7.30 pm if half of the trestle tables and seats would be empty all night. A lack of familiar songs sung by bands covering other bands who are either too big or too far back in history to be here in person. Tonight it’s mostly self-penned Blues Shack numbers. Too much daylight. Too little audience. forget part one – or treat it as a warm up for band and instruments.
Back on the stage for part two and there is a shift up in gears that equals the shift up in listeners. Those trestle table benches have filled as Bonita is insisting that “The handwritings on the wall” in a voice to die for. The band is visibly firing up, and smiles are beginning to radiate from faces both on and off the stage. The change in gear’s acceleration is maintained with the gospel tinge of ‘Love ain’t never hurt nobody’ and closed eyes could lead you to think Tina Turner was in town for the evening. But closing your eyes would be a big mistake because Bonita knows how to move onstage and she’s one of those people who eat up the camera as I once heard famously described of Marilyn Monroe.
It’s Michael Arlt’s turn to shine as he wails his harp on ‘Mary turn the lamp down low’ and Arlt also shows a fine soul shade in his vocals. His harp cable looks like something that was once attached to an ironing board and he seems to have miles of it to wrap over his shoulder and arms. His is a slightly gentler style than that of Uwe Placke from Sunday’s Bluesbenders. More melody, but enough attack though when he needs it. By the second set’s end Bonita is fiercely proclaiming that “You never miss the water ’til the well has all run dry” (‘Lonesome’). The band has it’s foot firmly on the gas still, and it’s as well that a second break follows before anyone is booked for speeding. “I’m Lonesome!” screams out the frontlady and holds her mike out for the audience to scream back – which they do at ever increasing volumes until the said frontlady is happy. In that dancing mass it’s hard to believe anyone could actually be lonesome.
Anything after that has to be a climax, right? Wrong! With the added kick of an audience jitter-bugging a few inches from their amps Bonita and the Blues Shacks are not for stopping and finish the evening in fine jump jiving, soul searching, blues busting style. It’s approaching 10 pm when Michael Arlt introduces Freddy King’s ‘You can’t hide’, a fine workout for both he and Bonita on vocals and a last chance to hear the excellent smooth blues guitar of Michael’s brother Andreas. This is one of those guys who you tend not to notice a lot of the time because he doesn’t play over the music but complements it instead. When he does step up to the stage front though it’s always to play a nice lick of bluesy soul.
The Blues Shacks have been playing gigs for some 25 years now and they are most certainly one of the best in Europe at what they play. With the added edge of that energy bundle Bonita they are a must see for anyone with a heart for real music with a soul. It’s surprising how much quicker you can walk home when your feet are dancing.