It is no wonder that The Backsliders are regarded as Australia’s greatest blues outfit: they consist of four world-class exponents of their respective instruments.
With Dom Turner on guitar and lead vocals, Rob Hirst on drums/percussion and Ian Collard (or Brod Smith…they alternate performances) on blues harp…what’s not to like??
The boys are currently on tour with US outfit Old Gray Mule, and played The Gov on Friday night as part of that tour.
Old Gray Mule consists of guitarist CR Humphrey and drummer JJ Wilburn from Texas and Mississippi respectively. Their brand of Mississippi blues got the house warmed up with a few dancers tentatively taking to the floor. The duo has a strikingly similar style to Lightnin’ Malcolm and Cedric Burnside and even included one their numbers, My Sweetheart, in their hour-long set.
Once The Backsliders took the stage after the break, the dancefloor was full. Their unique brand of “delta blues wall-of-sound”, could fill a stadium. It’s hard to believe there are only ever three of them on stage.
Their set last night was a well-chosen selection of their original songs with the occasional cover. Highlights included Duke, their tribute to Duke Kohanamoku, the Hawaiian who brought surfing to Australia, and 60s Girl, which Turner wrote in honour of his sister. Included in the set was their blues version (it’s almost a re-write), of The Stones Gimme Shelter, from their mini-album of covers, Throwbacks.
Half-way through the set, the boys toned it down a notch, pulling Hirst off the drums and putting him in front. The boys gathered around the one mic for three quieter, older, blues numbers, including Huddie Ledbetter’s Relax Your Mind. Hirst proves to be a dab hand on some of the smaller percussive instruments and a fine blues harmonizer.
Called back for the inevitable encore, the boys brought back Humphrey and Wilburn to join in the fun. Two drummers, two guitarists and the one of the world’s best blues harpists ripped the roof off The Gov, especially with their definitive version of Rollin’ and Tumblin.
Although the audience was sizeable and appreciative, it was sad to see that it wasn’t at capacity. Perhaps the Fringe is not the best time for them to be playing, as Turner himself acknowledged.
One complaint from the night was that Collard was not turned up enough, and the harp was drowned somewhat, but even that wasn’t enough to detract from a night of unsurpassed blues excellence.
Come back soon, boys!
Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Rating out of 5: 5
Venue: The Gov
Season: 13 February 2015 only
Duration: 3 hours