Live Review: West Coast Blues'N'Roots

5 April 2012 | 10:27 am | Cam Findlay

Now in its ninth year, West Coast Blues'n'Roots has become a fully-fledged international music festival, this year's event providing a line-up and level of organisation to rival any other – a welcome reprieve to the issues that have plagued this year's festival season. This year's local contingent saw the chilled-out aesthetic that both Felicity Groom and Ruby Boots frontwomen provide getting the day off to a great start. The Seals continued the cool casualness; the band looked to be having as much fun as humanly possible up on stage, a vibe only slightly brought down by the small size of the crowd. Then the first in a long line of legends to play on the day, Zydecats worked as a platform for the massively talented and world-renowned Lucky Oceans to have a jam on stage with his mates. Playing through a number of Dude Ranch tracks but also a bunch of new material, the 'Cats never took themselves too seriously. In contrast to the geography of their homeland, Canadian quartet The Sheepdogs peddle powerful southern rock with great authority. They were just the tonic to rouse the midday crowd and impressed here with tightness and great showmanship. Steve Earle took control of the main stage and displayed all the musical prowess that has seen him remain at the top for three decades. Set staple Copperhead Road was all gravelly vocals and thumping drums, while the rich mandolin that underpins Galway Girl was a highlight. By the time Portland natives Blitzen Trapper took to the Big Top stage, the crowd throughout Fremantle Oval was generating a healthy festival buzz. Though frontman Eric Earley is quite clearly the band's driving force, there was great enjoyment to be taken from the contributions of other members. Guitarist Erik Menteer, for instance, delivered a number of rampaging solos that were flawless, as witnessed on the excellent Fletcher. The anticipation prior to the appearance by blues oracle Buddy Guy was electric, and bedecked in a sharp red shirt, Guy ran through tracks like She's 19 Years Old and Nobody Understands Me But My Guitar, the latter containing some truly magical sonic moments. Despite his advancing years, Guy's energy was as strong and vibrant as ever, and his inimitable axe work was buffeted by a band of the highest order.  By the time Crosby, Stills & Nash hit the main stage, the punters were loosened up, and this set managed to get those of even the comparable generation to CSN dancing between their cardboard seats. Now most definitely elders of the world (David Crosby currently looks like a cross between Santa Claus and a hobo), the trio nevertheless still have their sets down perfectly. Mingling through their albums, tracks from Deja Vu, CSN and Daylight Again being highlights, they met and exceeded the already high expectations of everyone in attendance. Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue were one of the day's surprise packages, with Shorty aka Troy Andrews leading his band through a spectacular mix of funk and jazz. Andrews ability to sustain a note was, at times, truly extraordinary. The Specials lit up their debut Perth performance and had the huge crowd bouncing with great energy. The band's many members were full of punch and singer Terry Hall was in fine form, his laconic vocals adding nuance to tracks like Too Much Too Young. Easily topping the day for the largest crowd pilgrimage (and quite possibly of the season), the wall of people that met Drum as we made our way to The Pogues meant that the ten minutes meant working our way through the crowd. Thankfully the masters of Irish drinking songs provided a pretty amazing set. Despite looking a lot better than he did around ten years ago, Shane McGowan is obviously still plagued by the problems brought up by his excessive lifestyle, and his constant butchering of vocal duties took away from the band's raw power. However, he stood (albeit sometimes shakily) and took it like a proper frontman, and the unity the band portrayed meant that the group were as compelling as they could've been. An initially small crowd greeted co-headliners My Morning Jacket (thanks to the aforementioned Pogues exodus), but they tore into a setlist with all the intensity that has seen them become one of rock's finest live bands. Recent cuts like Victory Dance and Circuital were just brilliant, while the acoustic fave Golden saw Jim James' vocals soaring beautifully. It was a performance that slapped an exclamation mark on proceedings but, with several albums and a predilection for long sets, one hour simply wasn't enough. All in all, there was too much seen to pick a favourite, the day filled with musical awesomeness.