"[T]he fella who came out to greet the room looked like he might still be selected for South Fremantle – maybe the vets' team, but still."
Soul and spark, craft and connection, gospel reflections and bluesy fireworks, Eric Bibb kicked off his Australian tour in Fremantle in an accomplished fashion on Friday night. He’s not been in Oz for quite a few years, but the wait was worth it.
Rock Rover masquerades as a football club for most of the week, but when Rick Steele and his band took the stage, South Fremantle’s home ground began its periodic transformation. The footy club carpet and ranks of function chairs don’t exactly shout rock'n'roll – it’s sort of like seeing a show in a casino, but without the slot machines – but Steele was on form, the sound was great, and pretty quickly the fripperies slid into the background.
After delivering a pleasant mix of harmonica and slide-drenched blues, Steele assured us we were in for a treat, and he wasn’t wrong. Soul stylings from DJ Holly Doll had the crowd swaying, and soon enough the main event was ready to go. The interwebs says Bibb was born in 1951, but the fella who came out to greet the room looked like he might still be selected for South Fremantle – maybe the vets' team, but still.
Youthful appearance notwithstanding, when Bibb opened up with Going Down Slow, he made that tale of impending death completely convincing. The room was silent, the buzz submerged as Bibb stalked through the changes nice and slow, clean and clever, his velvety voice dropping to a rasp when the time was right.
Then the band came on stage, and the fun started in earnest. Juicy telecaster licks ornamented the autobiographical Silver Spoon, cutting loose like a hot knife through butter, and then like a rusty, jagged blade.
From there, Bibb and his band served up a smorgasbord (yes, the man playing that Tele, Staffan Astner, is Swedish) of blues and gospel, from fingerpicking foot-tappers to close-your-eyes-and-make-a-funny-face electric blues a la Albert Collins. All of it in the service of great songs – from the blues canon and from Bibb’s own repertoire – and a wonderful voice that soared from inspiration to gravelly impending doom.
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From his collaborative record with Habib Koité, Brothers In Bamako, Bibb gave us On My Way To Bamako, a number that channelled highlife and a bit of Afro-funk, guitar lines shimmering in the dusty sun and the cheerful chaos of West African city life. Then more funk, more blues, more gospel, yes indeed and thank you very much, Mr Bibb. Please come back soon.