What is there left to say about Julian Sas at Bonn Harmonie? Fact: this was his 18th appearance here since 2003. Fact: Most of those shows have been sold out within a few days. Fact: Julian Sas is one of Europe’s best guitar players. Fact: I’ve taken pictures of Julian’s devoted, mostly dutch, followers regularly over the years, and the faces don’t change. So what makes these people ‘fans for life?’. It’s Saturday night on a sunny November night in Bonn. Wintertime. Inside the Harmonie though it’s a hot and balmy evening – it’s Sas time…
Bernie Gelhausen aka Mr Music has been putting Julian on this stage for so long now that the two in Bonn are practically synonymous. I remember some years back when Julian even did an acoustic show in the old Mr Music CD shop. The Harmonie is much bigger, but despite this, there’s just as little room to move as there was in that shop gig – and it’s half an hour to go before the band is due to hit the stage. Julian has already been out to chat with the faithful who arrived here at the venue sometime in the afternoon. I thought I caught Bernie Gelhausen asking Julian with a wink if he was up to playing two and a half hours tonight? Julian looked almost sad that there could be a cap on the finishing time. How about that Mr Van Morrison? I think we are already starting to understand why so many fans keep coming back…
Any plans to take photos from a different location are gone by 7:58 pm. Yes, Julian snuck an extra two minutes playing time in at the start. Forget the stage lights – the big man’s smile could light the whole damn hall. Maybe right at the back somewhere there is someone who doesn’t know Julian’s music, is here and still needs to be convinced. He7she will certainly be converted in the next two hours of head-on Blues Rock.
The guitars change regularly throughout the evening, but never the commitment to playing them – that’s always 110%. Unlike many guitar players, Julian doesn’t seem to have a preference. Put a Gibson in his hand and he plays ‘Anything’ from 2019’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ with such emotion that Peter Green could be standing there. Switch to a Firebird and that cool slide sound could easily have come from prime-time Johnny Winter. Maybe, and it’s just a maybe, A Stratocaster just gets the extra nod of approval. It was, of course, the ‘weapon of Choice’ for probably Julian’s two biggest influences. Certainly Julian’s ‘Hey Joe’ is one of those numbers that just has you watching blurred fingers rushing effortlessly down the fretboard of ‘Fury’ – Julian’s white Stratocaster.
At one point Julian confesses, with a slight show of amazement to himself, that next year will see his 50th Birthday. Maybe by his 70th, he will start to slow down and ‘shorten’ his shows a little (down to two hours maybe?!). Right now though He’s blasting out Rory’s ‘Bullfrog Blues’ like an eighteen-year-old. The two and a half hours were clearly never going to be enough for musician, band or fans. The Man and his wonderful eternally smiling cohorts don’t have time to even leave the stage to come back for an encore – all they can manage time for is to take a few paces to the back of the stage. Julian almost immediately steps forward to the microphone again within seconds to apologize. “We have to stop at 10:30. it’s curfew time” his words show genuine regret.
But there is solace for both Sas and audience: “We’ve got five minutes left – this is going to be a fast one. Let’s go!” and the band put down the Blues Rock hammer once again. Roland Bakker on Keys and Fotis Anagnostou on bass have been here before. They know the Harmonie and they know their Boss stage left. Lars Erik van Elzakker is nine months into replacing (if anyone could) Rob Heijn on the drumkit. A rock-steady player with a big heart for playing, I’m sure the audience has accepted van Elzakker already into their Sas family. The tickets for Julian back here for show number 19 in 2020 are already on sale. If two and a half hours aren’t enough for you grab one.
Oh, and they say always photograph the drummer at shows, so here is new man Lars Erik VanElzakker… or what I could see of him all night!