Pre show I thought about the last time I had seen John play live. It had been at a Blues Festival in Perth. He had been one of the earlier acts of the day and I had not really thought much of him. To put this into context, 11 hours later I would be watching Bob Dylan and then Ray Charles round out the evening. That was five years ago though and thing can change. At the very least my opinion about seeing a performer play at a single venue rather that a festival is very different.
Five years on from that moment and John is probably now 79 going on 80 and my expectations were tempered with interest and quiet optimism but not all out excitement.
Upon entering the venue I noticed that the man at the merch’ table was John himself and with a ting of excitement I decided to purchase some of his CD’s, get an autograph or two and hopefully have some music banter with the man who would be front and center shortly in this evenings festivities. Alas all this interest would be dashed after I asked my first question…..
I shook his hand (Gordan described his hand shake with John and something I think is akin to a “wet fish” hand shake) and I thought I would engage with the performer in him and asked what song does he like to perform the best when he is up on stage running though his set?
This unfortunately was met with a response that he liked playing them all otherwise he wouldn’t play them…….well I have been taught that if you fall of the horse then you have to get right back on it again so hit him with another hard gritty question…….”So John, where are you playing next” and was met with a “Hello….Springfield” moment his response was as interested as this…” somewhere in Holland, and then Belgium.”
Wow. At this point I was batting two from two and decided that it was time to put the cue in the rack, collect the CD’s and head inside, amongst the oldest average age of a crowd I have been in in a while and wait for John and band to take the stage.
The band took the stage with a lead/ part-time rhythm guitarist, bass player, drummer and John on keys, harp and guitar.
First off I was worried about the strength of the 79 year olds voice but after a few songs he had warmed into it. What I thought he was lacking was his guitar playing skills, but he did surround himself with good muso’s, and at points he would switch from playing the lead guitar parts to playing the rhythm parts and then let the boy from Texas (the actual lead guitarist) take it away with the slightly more complex playing arrangements.
What he did still do really well was play the harmonica. This he barely missed a note, and that is what brought these old blues songs alive like you would not believe.
So about 1 hour and 50 minutes later, one encore down and the gig was at an end. Most of the songs in the set had, with traditional blues style, gone on for about 9 or 10 minutes and most had hit their mark. All up not too shabby a concert, but to me, when comparing the blues performers I have seen lately, he wasn’t as good as the Robert Cray gig , but Robert is about 30 years the junior of John so is vocal skills and dexterity on the guitar should be better.
But also truth be told when assessing age, I think Leonard Cohen killed John’s performance in quite a few aspects and he is 74 years of age. Leonard’s vibrancy was second to none for a gentleman his age which is clear from the moment he drops to his knees mid song from the first to the tenth time during the concert.
As I walked away from the show I thought if this was back in Australia I would have thought it was really good, but here in Amsterdam we are spoilt with musical acts. Therefore this came across to me as a gig worth seeing but not the best I have seen this month.