5 Best Acts at Bluesfest 2016

 

Kendrick Lamar

Opening with the impressive two-punch of ‘For Free?’ and ‘Wesley’s Theory’ from his latest critically acclaimed release To Pimp a Butterfly, Kendrick quickly dispelled any doubts about what he was doing at a blues festival. The blues and jazz influences were felt in both tracks; the former seeing Kendrick rapping at almost sonic speeds over a free form piano line, the latter featuring quite possibly the funkiest and dirtiest bass line of the day.

Kendrick also brought the big sing-a-longs, an essential ingredient of any good festival, and massive tracks like ‘King Kunta’, ‘Bitch, Don’t Kill My Vibe’ and ‘m.a.a.d. City’ brought out the funk within us all. Moshers jumped and rapped along with intense ferocity and many bevs were spilt.

The high point of the set easily came in the last track, ‘Alright’. Having already become associated with the Black Lives Matter movement in America, the track is turning into an anthem of solidarity across the world, irrespective of race. Hearing the whole crowd chanting “We gonna be alright” was an incredibly special moment of unison that harkened back to the early days of blues music and its powerful influences over social change.

 

Graham Nash

When heading over to watch rock immortal and all round charismatic character Graham Nash, we decided we’d stand back and let the older generation lap this one up in the mosh. Yet just when we’d given up hope on any front-row-action, we heard that the man himself was about to play a secret gig at the Juke Joint (one of Bluesfest’s more intimate stages).

The two track set was recorded live for local radio and included classic Hollies hit, ‘Bus Stop’ and ‘This Path Tonight’ the single of Nash’s soon to be released record of the same name. Playing to no more than 100 people, the figurehead from golden group Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young managed to hypnotise the crowd in what has now become second nature. Accompanied by Shane Fontayne, who produced album This Path Tonight and has worked with the likes of Sting and Springsteen, the duo put on a guitar clinic with some classic acoustic Gibsons.

After an interview where you’d mistake the 74 year old for a cheeky frontman from a band making their festival debut, we were left wanting more. As expected, the scheduled set time was swarmed on by the parents of the festival who, for the 60 minute set, must’ve been having flashbacks to their vinyl spinnin’ youth.

With tales of Woodstock, acid infused strolls and political rallies told between songs, it was story time as much it was a rock show, and we doubt there’s a man alive with better stories than Nash. ‘Our House’ and closing sing-a-long ‘Teach Your Children’ were standouts in a set that took 20 years off everyone who attended.

 

The National

From the opening chords and pulsating drum beat of ‘Sea of Love’, we knew we were in for a special set from American indie-rockers The National.  And this was before lead singer Matt Berninger’s trademark vocals had even kicked in.

It’s perhaps a hard proposition to play a festival set when you’re often regarded as a ‘sad’ and ‘downer’ band amongst the uninitiated, but The National couldn’t have been more at home at Bluesfest. In a live setting, the band bring an incredible intensity and energy to their music without sacrificing the emotional heft present on their albums. The guitars, bass and drums all lock together to create a detailed and emotive wall of sound that washes over the crowd, dispelling any assumptions about The National being a ‘quiet’ band. Though their lyrics may be morose, their music is anything but.

And then there’s that voice. That soulful, baritone voice that immediately reminds the crowd who they’re listening to. Matt Berninger was on top form last night, walking around the stage, bellowing out well-known National catch cries like “I should live in salt for leaving you behind” (from the obviously titled ‘I Should Live in Salt’) and “I was carried to Ohio in a swarm of bees” (from ‘Bloodbuzz Ohio’) much to the delight of the crowd. Like his fellow musicians, Berninger also brought an extra intensity to the performance, most notably at the end of ‘Graceless’ which saw him stomping around the stage and literally screaming the final lines “put the flowers you find in a vase”.

 

Eagles of Death Metal

Eagles of Death Metal easily took home the prizes for loudest band and most energetic. Skipping out onto the stage with a cigarette in hand and sporting black skinny jeans, red suspenders and that signature moustache, frontman Jesse Hughes truly was a force to be reckoned with. Constantly asking how the “ladies and gentlemen” were feeling and dedicating songs to particular punters he noticed from the stage, Hughes had the audience in the palm of his hand.

Playing loud and heavy favourites like ‘Complexity’, ‘Cherry Cola’ and ‘I Only Want You’, Eagles of Death Metal quickly had the whole moshpit dancing and stomping along with them. ‘I Want You So Hard (Boys Bad News)’ got an especially rowdy response, with the crowd shouting “the boy’s bad news” at maximum volume. As to be expected in the aftermath of the tragedy at their Paris show last year, the set became incredibly emotional at times, especially during a performance of ‘I Love You All The Time’ which has been covered by bands like Florence + The Machine, Beck and Elton John to raise money for victims of the Paris attack. “It’s been a weird couple of months,” Jesse explained at one point, “but you motherfuckers make all that bad stuff go away.” The applause and cheer accompanying this sent shivers down many spines.

 

The Cat Empire

In a moment of victory for Australian music at the festival, Melbourne partiers The Cat Empire drew one of the weekend’s biggest and most energetic crowds. With a mix of well-received new material from new release Rising With The Sun and certified festival favourites like ‘How to Explain?’, ‘Two Shoes’ and ‘The Wine Song’, the band got a serious party started in the moshpit. A few glances around the tent confirmed that no feet were still.

Credit to the band’s success, new material drew a surprisingly strong reception, particularly ‘Brighter than Gold’ and ‘Wolves’. Naturally, the biggest response came from closing track and fan-favourite ‘The Chariot’ which saw the entire crowd singing along to the song’s refrain “our weapons are our instruments, made from timber and steel”. The few uninitiated who didn’t know the lyrics quickly learnt and joined in.

Read our full reviews here:

DAY #1 featuring Harts, the Cold War Kids, Kendrick Lamar and more.

DAY #2 featuring Graham Nash, Steve EarleThe National and more.

DAY #3 featuring Eagles of Death Metal, The Decemberists, D’Angelo and more.

DAY #4 featuring Noel Gallagher, Modest Mouse, The Cat Empire and more.

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