Bluesfest Day #2 – The Wrap


Pictures by @yayastemp

Crowd pleasing classics from legendary musician Graham Nash, a varied mix of material from Tweedy and a surprisingly high-energy performance from indie-rockers The National made for another amazing day at Bluesfest.

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.

Father and son outfit Tweedy collected a large group of new fans with their varied set of songs. Although most punters were familiar with Wilco, Jeff Tweedy’s primary band, few had heard his stripped back work with 20 year old son Spencer Tweedy. Playing a mix of material from Wilco and Tweedy and backed by a full band, the guys showed off their impressive command of blues, rock and country styles. The chemistry amongst the band was particularly special to witness, with constant smiles and hand gestures traded amongst the members. They truly felt like a typical blues family band which won the crowd’s affection over quickly.

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”.

With a generous mix of newer tracks like ‘I Need My Girl’ and ‘Pink Rabbits’ from latest album Trouble Will Find Me and older favourites like ‘Sorrow’ and ‘Abel’, the band were true crowd pleasers. Like Kendrick Lamar, The National also brought the prerequisite crowd sing-a-long in the form of closing track ‘Vanderlyle Crybaby Geeks’. A stripped back version on guitar, trumpet and percussion gave the crowd and Berninger the perfect opportunity to sing together in unison. “All the very best of us string ourselves up for love” echoed through the tent and was still being sung long after the set ended.

Catch up on all the other days of the festival here…

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

About Mark Royters

Many years ago I was given an Arctic Monkeys EP. Everything changed from that moment onwards. I'm a Sydney-based music writer, reviewer and interviewer.

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