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Memo Gonzalez and The Bluescasters + Ian Seigal
Charlie's,
9 Crosswall, London EC3, 31.10.06

Review by David Atkinson


I'd heard his album and read the hype but thanks to a seemingly endless stream of prior engagements (or simple bad luck) I'd never seen or heard Ian Seigal in person.
As I got to Charlie's he was all ready well into Blind Willie Johnson's God Don't Ever Change. I suspected I was in for a treat.
 
I was forced to stand as there were no spare seats, unusual for half past seven on a Tuesday night, but a fair few were occupied by fans rather than just post-work drinkers. The former were reverent but the latter a little noisy I thought, but what can you do? Well, you can play and sing like Ian Siegal, that's what. We got a fine set pounded and plucked from of his vintage steel-bodied National, including almost as much gospel as straight blues. He was skilled and charismatic enough to silence the boozy Suits but not necessarily the odd genuflecting fan determined to sing along - them he just tells to shut up.
 
Stop Breaking Down
and Groundhog Blues were sheer class and offset nicely by Mary Don't You Weep. The combination of steel National (rather than brass) and his fingerpick-less frailing right hand gives the 'der-rum-dum-dum...' sound you can hear on the the title track of his album 'Meat and Potatoes'. It's not without its hazzards though as we witnessed a broken nail getting snagged on the strings. Painful? I winced from across the room. It didn't slow him down though and he joked he'd sell the nail on ebay the following day. I wonder if he got any bids...
 
Based on what I saw, Ian's set was more than an amalgamation of his influences, but I wished it was even more so. The wolfisms and Waitisms are there but so was an almost carbon copy of Taj Mahal's version of Ain't Nobody's Business and a segue from House Rent Boogie to One Bourbon, One Scotch... that is a trademark of George Thorogood, neither of which was acknowledged as such (or at least not so I noticed). I hope this was more to do with the solo setting insofar as it allowed him to indulge himself and play what he wanted, rather than him allowing the audience to think they were his own. It did take the edge of his performance for me a bit - a touch of humility is endearing, I think.
 
Being particularly enamoured of pre-war delta and gospel styles, I really enjoyed seeing someone drawing on these sources in a progressive way (and perfectly exemplified on Drowned My Sorrows on 'Meat and Potatoes').
Now, it sounds a bit Gestalt, but between the Son House, John Lee Hooker, Robert and Blind Willie Johnson, Taj Mahal, Tom Waits and Chester Burnett, there was less Siegal than there ought to be. It's odd because I was so impressed but found the studied coolness really frustrating.  He has the range and ability to do it all and I think with less of the persona and more personality he'd be one of the greats himself - much, much more than the sum of his parts. 
 
He closed with John The Revelator, drumming out the galloping rhythm on the neck of his guitar while cigarette smoke rose from the headstock... 



Pound for pound, Memeo Gonzalez and The Bluescasters must be the best value band on earth. A truly international group, they instantly locked onto a slow-burn groove that built and built thanks the the robust, muscular guitar playing of Kai Strauss. I'm not normally a fan of strats but there was nothing thin about the tone. This was west-coast and swinging, fat but not at all flabby. 
 
Mauling the bass was a colossal, intimidating looking fellow who wrung out one of the most satisfying bass sounds I've heard in ages from what looked like a rather battered Danelectro semi-acoustic bass. The tone was somewhere between an upright and a bass guitar and I loved it. Erkan Ozdemir was large enough to play it vertically; it looked almost like a necktie at at times.
 
Memo himself was even bigger, and looked like I like to think all Texans look. Quite the showman and in possession of a refreshingly uncliched harp style, he set about dedicating every song the the 'fine, beautiful ladies' in the room. My chilli had just arrived (it seemed an appropriate choice) so I didn't get much chance to see where he was looking - I'll take his word for it though.


 
Special mention must be given to the double neck Silvertone-style guitar played by Kai on a couple of numbers. My hat goes off to anyone who can convincingly wield a white axe like that, whilst wearing a cowboy shirt and plenty o' pomade...
 
In a set that incorporated Rn'B, blues, swing and more rocky numbers, they demonstrated that while there's room for flashes of individual brilliance (a hefty behind-the-head guitar solo) it's the whole package that makes a good band. Memo and The Bluescasters are certainly that.