During an onstage competition to win tickets for next year’s Harmonie show the question raised was, “How many times in succession has Julian Sas appeared at Bonn Harmonie?” The winner’s answer was an incredible “sixteen”. On this evening’s performance though no one would bet against celebrating a quarter century of shows here in 2026. Heck, what price a half century of shows in 2051? Three things in life seem to be certain: death, taxes, and Julian Sas in November.
With an hour to go before show start the front of stage is already filled with smiling faces, full beer glasses and people speaking dutch. Julian’s fan club is back in town. Wouldn’t they prefer Julian to play his end of year concert closer to home, maybe Milchweg in Amsterdam? I ask one. With typical dutch calmness and Kölsch in hand he answers that the Harmonie in Bonn is a great place for the show and he feels at home here. I’m wondering if it might have to be his home tonight – since Bonn with the current climate conference in full swing is totally booked out for all forms of visitors. Typically though promoter Bernie Gelhausen has made sure everyone has a roof over their heads after the show – not your everyday promoters job – but then Mr Music is thankfully not your everyday promoter. We raise a glass to Bonn, to Bernie and to the Julian Sas Band.
By show start at 8 pm there is no room to even raise an eyebrow. From stage front to up in the balcony where Julian’s parents are seated the house is full of smiling faces. Bang on 8 pm the stage also fills with smiling faces – Julian Sas and band take up their instruments for what turns out to be a long evening that will, contrary to all scientific laws, pass in a seemingly short time.
There’s a wonderful atmosphere between band and immediate audience, as if this was the first ever show by a bunch of teenagers and taking place in front of a dozen or so friends and family. Each band member has their fans too it seems. and smiles, together with short quips of conversation, leap from stage to audience and back all evening. Someone wants to talk football – “Don’t get me onto that subject!” replies Julian with a wink. Rob Heijn is cracking funny faces with a section of the front row and Roland Bakker, despite looking every bit like the local plumber, tweed cap on head, is servicing not a dishwasher but a keyboard/organ expertly and being videoed by a fan in front of said keyboard every time he takes a solo. Even newcomer Fotis Anagnosta on bass leans out into the audience to smile with fans three rows back.
It all sounds like fun for the band, and hopefully it is, but it’s also a hard days night for them. Rob Heijn in particular has to keep up his power-drumming pretty much non-stop. The big man always makes his kit look smaller than the average drum set but his sticks seem like veritable tree branches – necessary ‘weapons’ for powerhouse drummers I guess – I still have half a stick that snapped during a Kurtis Smith (The Brew) solo and flew at me, so when people like Smith and Heijn get into their stride I keep a wary eye out for ‘friendly fire’.
The first thing to say about the band’s actual set on the night is ‘Wow!!!’ In these days of band’s announcing their last regular song after an hour and then coming back after ten minutes for maybe another twenty to fulfill a contracted 90 minutes it is, to say the least, refreshing, to look at my watch after 90 minutes and hear Julian Sas launch into another number from the regular set.
It’s been a roller coaster ride through recent tracks from ‘Feelin Alive’ like ‘Helping Hand’ and ‘Fear of Falling’ to older numbers like 2016’s ‘Coming Home’, ‘Life on the Edge’ from 2012’s ‘Bound to Roll’ and going back to Sas classics like 2005’s ‘Sugar Cup Boogie’.
Naturally there is still room for the showstoppers of old like ‘Devil Got My Number’ (dedicated this evening to one of Julian’s greatest influences the late Chuck Berry) and of course a belter of an encore with Rory Gallagher’s take on the Blues Classic ‘Bullfrog Blues’. There is too a great version of ‘Blues for J’ with Roland Bakker conjuring a pretty decent church organ sound to set it’s sombre tones off perfectly. It’s the really down to the bone Blues numbers that are my favourites of the evening though – especially when Julian slips that brass slide onto his finger. The Delta Blues sound of Blind Willie McTell’s ‘Statesboro Blues’ is a welcome break from the frenetic hard rock blues of much of this evening. It’s music that only really works when played by someone who really means what they sing and for all his lyrics about wandering and spirits that conjur Julian Sas as some kind of world weary Indian chieftain it’s telling that he still seems at his sincerest when he’s going back to the Blues roots of his own style.
After two and a half hours without a break even the band started to give Sas looks that suggest they might want to go backstage and collapse for half an hour. When the final notes rang out though I could swear that if the band consisted solely of Julian Sas clones then we would still be in that hall now with Julian’s smile meeting that of a not inconsiderable number of dutch fans who could listen to the man’s music for as long as he could play it for – which would be a very long time indeed. If there was a ‘Value for Money’ award then Julian Sas’ shows at Bonn Harmonie would win. On the subject of which, tickets for 2018 are already on sale. It will be Julian’s 17th appearance here and, barring border controls in Holland, a packed hall again. Which is just as it should be.