Bluesfest Day Four

10 April 2012 | 2:59 pm | Dan Condon

With bleary eyes, horrible breath and spirits soaring, it's time to say goodbye to Bluesfest for another year.

I can barely open my eyes, my head is thumping, my mouth feels and tastes like a dustbowl full of dead animals and I swear if my feet don't stop throbbing soon I'll just have to get rid of them. Yep, Sunday at Bluesfest was one for the ages.

A quick glance at Angelique Kidjo does little to pique my interest. I must have seen her three times at this festival in the past decade or so and I've still not yet found what makes her so appealing to so many. I guess her infectious energy and the rather friendly afro-pop her band pumps out flawlessly are endearing enough and, whatever it is, there are more than a few people rapt with her this afternoon.

After a taste yesterday I'm pretty excited to take in a full Bettye LaVette set over in the Jambalaya tent, which is probably just a touch over half full when she kicks off. What unfolds is truly extraordinary and makes a solid case for being the set of the festival thus far. She plays with emotional peaks and troughs like some kind of overlord; when she's up and energetic, you're grinning and dancing (evidenced in songs like Joy and It Serves Him Right) , when she's low and dour, you're silent, still and holding onto every word that comes out of her mouth courtesy of her well worn, beautifully gritty voice (George Jones' The Choices I've Made, The Beatles' Blackbird, Ringo Starr's It Don't Come Easy). Her band are perfect for her; they go with the dynamic shifts just as much as she does, they're loud and gutsy at times, lilting and smooth at others, but constantly very proficient. LaVette is charming as all hell too, she makes it quite well known that she has a hangover, that she's not a church going gospel singer and she even takes a “senior citizen moment”, sitting on the ground centre stage to run through Souvenirs, the John Prine song she recorded for her 1972 record of the same name. It's somewhat of a shame there aren't more people here to witness just how perfectly LaVette has got her show down, but the few hundred of us who are there won't be forgetting it any time soon. Truly special.

Every time I've tried to explain a Maceo Parker set to anyone, I've just made it sound kind of lame. But the deeply funky journey that he takes us on is anything but. I know it's a big call, but his band would be strong contenders for the best musicians on ground this weekend, their slick funk absolutely water tight. Funk Fiesta kicks things off on an immediately funky foot, a string groove starts up that doesn't stop for the next hour. Off The Hook  features some mindblowing bass work from Funkadelic bassist Rodney 'Skeet' Curtis and sees Parker chanting out a couple of lines that have been a big part of his musical life thus far; “Papa's got a brand new bag!” he hollers at one time, at another he's singing “Make my funk the P-Funk”. Acknowledging he's at a blues festival, Parker sings a half verse of a blues song he admits to just making up on the spot before it's straight back to the funk with Make It Funky. Guitarist Bruno Spreight turns in a scorcher of a guitar solo, though by the time they get through Gimme Some More and The Pinocchio Theory something strange becomes apparent; despite the mindblowing musical talent on show, it's the vocal interplay that makes this such an incredible set. Parker's grunts, hollers and yelps weaving together with those of the band, adding a very cool extra rhythmic element. A couple of dancers jump up on stage towards the end of the set – twins, apparently – and Maceo joins in with some synchronised moves during the closing song to ensure that this set really does have a bit of everything.

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Seasick Steve has certainly changed a lot since he first graced a Bluesfest stage a few years ago. While he opens with Diddley Bo and still uses a ramshackle collection of stringed instruments in various states of disrepair, he's well and truly toned down the hobo shtick – for better or worse. There's a bigger rabbit to be pulled out of his hat tonight though, as Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones wanders out to join in on bass, mandolin and slide for the entire set, while the members of Wolfmother also get in on the action for a couple of songs towards the end of the set. Pretty cool tricks to have up your sleeve, but the thing is that Seasick Steve's songs aren't really good enough to stand up on their own and you can't help but think he'll always need some kind of gimmick to get himself across the line. For fired up electric blues it's certainly passable though, and the quieter moments work too, particularly when percussionist Dan Magnusson fleshes out It's A Long Long Way by brushing a broom up against a guitar case. Perpetual closing track Dog House Boogie doesn't feel anywhere near as powerful as it did all those years ago, but the crowd still laps it up, so he's clearly doing something right.

A mass exodus from the Crossroads tent makes you feel for Weddings, Parties, Anything a little bit, but they don't seem to mind, launching into a spirited Away Away first up. They might not get out on the live stage as a band much these days, but you can't really notice – they're tight, energetic and really look passionate about what they're doing. It'd be hard not to, you'd imagine. The songs are just so good. Ticket In Tatts, Grey Skies Over Collingwood and Lowest of the Low's Rosy & Grey feel almost anthemic, while a cover of The Triffids' Wide Open Road into the band's massive hit Father's Day kick that feeling up tenfold. Rain In My Heart is gutsy but A Tale They Won't Believe is utterly epic as a closing salvo and confirms that the organisers' decision to put WPA on before this evening's British visitors was a stroke of genius.

I feel comfortable that my expectations for The Pogues tonight are set at a reasonable level. I've wanted to see this band for over ten years and, honestly, never thought I would, so I don't feel as if I could handle crushing disappointment if they fail to deliver. I need not have worried, tonight they absolutely slay everything in their path. Shane MacGowan is not only on stage, he's lucid, in good voice and not missing any of his parts – it feels like some kind of easter miracle to anyone who saw him with The Popes all those years back and it's absolutely glorious. The set list is practically flawless; Streams Of Whiskey, If I Should Fall From Grace With God, A Pair Of Brown Eyes, Sunny Side of the Street, a chilling And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda, The Body of an American, and, of course, an enormous singalong for the classic Dirty Old Town. The band are in sensational touch, every gorgeous Celtic inspired flourish executed with aplomb and with enough aggression and energy to get your blood pumping furiously. Their first encore sees them blast out Sally MacLennane, Rainy Night In Soho and The Irish Rover and while a few handfuls of people take the opportunity to make it to the bus line a touch early, the majority of the Crossroads tent are screaming their lungs out, urging the band back for one more song. It's a well deserved rapturous response and turns into a limb-flailing dance party when the band crank up Fiesta, Spider Stacey and MacGowan begins smashing trays on their heads with considerable force and the whole thing is, to be frank, loose as fuck.

It's the ultimate way to end our trip to the Byron Bay Bluesfest this year. It's hard to believe our journey is over already, it always is though, and quite incredible that the best performance of the festival has come right at the end of proceedings. It has to be said, if you haven't yet experienced this festival, you must put it on your bucket list. It's the ultimate music-lovers event and one where you'll make myriad exciting discoveries, see true legends in their field in the flesh and have an almighty good time doing so. Yes, I am sore and sorry, but what I wouldn't give to be back at Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm right now. Until next year...