Ana Popovic was clearly taking the title of this concert series from 2getherconcerts and the Harmonie – ‘Blues for Lovers’ – very seriously. ‘Give me a kiss’ glitters on her white t-shirt. Can anyone pass up such a request from the enigmatic blues guitar Queen? Especially after such a long absence. In 2011 Ana played two shows here in Bonn – one here at the Harmonie, and a notable appearance at Museumsplatz as support for the late BB King. Today Ana is finally back, and with a musical bang, in the form of a new horn section from Italy.
There were a lot of changes in store for me. I wanted to say ‘hi’ to Ana before the show, but when I put my head round the door during a break in the soundcheck, only a familiar red Stratocaster in the guitar rack and the similarly familiar face of keyboard maestro Michele Papadia reassure me I was in the right place.
The musical build-up to Anna’s arrival onstage hasn’t changed though, even if the musicians providing it have. When the lady finally steps into the spotlight it’s to loud cheers from the audience (packed into the hall by now like the proverbial sardines in a tin) she looks as stunning as on that first day I caught her with the Blues Caravan here in 2006. Giving birth to two children hasn’t stopped her from having slim legs with jeans so tight they could be spray-painted on. I would be tempted to take up that T-shirt offer except for the high heeled, spike-covered, boots – not something to mess with!
Ana’s new disc also suggests she is not to be messed with. ‘I Like it on Top’ might be a pun, but the texts are very serious – particularly in their support of Women’s Rights and equality. The disc is also a departure musically, which partly explains the change of band personnel I guess. There’s an altogether funkier sound, that’s well taken care of by the new rhythm section – which is actually Ana’s rhythm section from her band stateside now. Buthel Bass is a big man and his big hands pluck and slap strings enthusiastically as he keeps a deep, thunderous, time to the beats from Cedric Goodman’s drums. Goodman is one of those sticksmen who, rather than ‘hide’ in the background have a visual presence that keeps him in the audience eye. No mean feat when you’re vying with those long Popovician legs for attention. All in all, it’s a funkier fundament than the former Stephane Avellaneda and Ronnie Jonker’s rockier sound. Which you prefer is a matter of musical taste – all great musicians.
The sound is further pumped up by Davide Ghidoni on trumpet and Claudio Ciovagnoli on sax. Not the duo who play in Ana’s stateside band – but I can’t imagine the guys in America could fit in better. Along with Michele Papadia on keys that makes for an Italian majority in the band this evening. Maybe that’s why they all seemed so relaxed. A good time was clearly being had by all – on and off stage.
From my position in front of the Italian brass section, I felt at times as if I was being ‘sand-blasted’ with music. A wall of sound that I would like to have been more varied. Others further back in the packed house were very complimentary about the sound, so maybe it was just me. I remember the days of a trio and hearing Ana’s guitar playing ring crystal clear from the speakers. There is seemingly no room anymore for Ana’s virtuoso Stevie Ray tribute ‘Navajo Moon’, which is a pity. Instead, ‘Johnnie Ray’ was the emotional highlight of the evening in my book, and aside from impeccable guitar from Ana, was further proof of what a great Hammond player Michele Papadia is. He’s played with many a top Bluesman, but Michele’s musical roots go back to Jazz and that’s plainly audible when he and Ana trade improvised organ/guitar licks.
There wasn’t too much room for raw Blues this evening, so a cover of Albert King’s ‘Can’t you see what you’re doing to me’ was lapped up enthusiastically by the audience. Older material was also rationed although there was a hard-hitting ‘Can you stand the Heat’ to enjoy.
Two numbers that went down particularly well were covers: ‘Cross Town Traffic’ has long been on Ana’s set-list, especially given her appearance (as the only female guitarist) on the Hendrix Tribute tours. The version tonight rattled along at a furious pace with the sax/trumpet backing giving it more fury than ever before. Nice too to hear Ana’s take on Tom Wait’s ‘Brand New Coat of Paint’ – which is exactly what she gives it (well Tom can’t play a Strat like Ana!)
All in all then, the most familiar thing to long-term Ana Popovic fans about tonight’s show was her two guitars. Something not lost at the talk after the show, which turned (very frequently not surprisingly) to the subject of six strings. Ana’s father Milton still remembers her first picking up the reissue ’57 Red Stratocaster as a teenager. There’s now a sunburst one alongside it that has so much play it’s starting to take on the patina of a certain Rory Gallagher model in places. Ana might be someone always looking to make new music, but she prefers old and trusted tools to do it. A part of me wanted those guitars to be playing what they used to play – but there’s no denying she delivers her very own funk sound excellently and has a fine band to back it up. Maybe this was what she was dreaming of, even in those trio days with Denis Palatin and Fabrice Ach.
There was certainly no sign of disappointment at the new sound and band from tonight’s audience. A packed house is guaranteed for your next visit Ana. Please don’t leave it so long before your next return.
and finally. That Tshirt offer was hard to resist for some…
Further dates on the Blues for Lovers Tour…