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Son of Dave + Tom Mansi & The Icebreakers + Hey Negrita Madame Jo Jo's 21.020.08 Review by David Atkinson. Photos Meurig Rees (firstname.lastname@example.org)
The Devil is among us. He is Canadian.
I first saw Son of Dave at the Barbican a few years back when he played on the bill of daytime acts as part of one of the It Came From Memphis events there. When he took to the stage in the lobby sometime in the early afternoon, dressed in a light blue suit and now familiar hat, he appeared to be in the grip of a furious hangover. He was pink and sweaty and had not even played a note; there was something unpredictable about him. He spoke a few words into his harp mic by way of introduction but they were hopelessly distorted. And then it came; the wooshing, honking, howling harp over layers of beat boxing and chatter. I had been changed - the rest of the day's acts seemed rather timid and predictable by comparison.
Since then he has popped up at festivals a-plenty and on Later with Jools... on a steady rise upwards similar to that of Seasick Steve. He inhabits a curious position, and an enviable one too: a blues act that is cool by anyone's standards. He is heavily stylised, quick witted and makes a holy ruckus. And what's wrong with that?!
His third album, 03, is due for release imminently and he kicked of a UK tour the other night in Soho. You've got to love this filthy town, there's always something doing...
Within the bulesque confines of Madame Jojo's in Soho, Hey Negrita opened proceedings with their highly-authentic sounding Americana. To my shame, I was too late arriving to hear their whole set but caught enough to realise they definitely warrant a proper listen. (You can catch them at the Troubadour on the 28th Feb and the Notting Hill Arts Club on the 7th March.) I cursed my poor time-keeping and drifted into the thickening crowd, which seemed to be entirely comprised of women accompanying men in hats.
Next up were Tom Mansi and the Icebreakers. Their EP Holly is definitely worth checking out ahead of their Love On The Rails album release in April. Having finally got round to seeing them live, I am kicking myself that I didn't do so sooner. They are superb. Pretty much all advocates of the bull fiddle are alright with me and Tom certainly inhabits the cool end of the spectrum of singing bassists (You're aware of the scale, I take it? At one end is a shirtless Sting and at the other drug-addled Rick Danko; not cool and cool, respectively - What about that bloke from Level 42? - Ed) In fact, Tom Mansi's bass is so prominent on stage that it is effectively another member of the band, and it highlights his skill as a musician and as a frontman - someone with less presence would be lost behind it, but here it works as a interesting focal point.
Their songs are superbly crafted, catchy and dark. Some of them gallop along so fast - propelled by James Johnston’s fantastic drumming and Paul “the Iceman” White’s sharp, reverb-soaked guitar - that there is barely time to catch a breath. The Small Change-era Waits vocal inflection is less prominent live than on their recorded work and their sound is, to my ears at least, better for it. It was a thrilling set and I'll be seeing them again. I urge you to make their next gigs.
Once the stage was cleared of all the instruments, save for a couple of mic stands and a tiny vox amp, Son of Dave sat down and sucked and blew our socks off. What's great about his music is that at no point does the technique of looping and layering harp, vocals, and drum sounds become the point of the act. It all works towards the righteous end of making everybody want to dance and is hefty enough to follow the noise made by Tom Mansi & The Icebreakers without feeling there's something missing.
We were treated to new material and favourites from 02. Despite a few problems with mic leads, the whole set was a treat from start to finish. And to maintain interest in what was happening on stage he augmented arrangements with backing singers and rather scared looking human props, at one point serving them drinks while the music played.
The importance of Little Walter's innovation of playing his harp through a taxi-rank microphone cannot be overstated.... yaddah, yaddah... Yet in the 50 odd years since then there's not been much else save for the refinement of technique and tone. Mr Darvil's approach can therefore be considered a step forward for the harmonica and blues, and a two-fingered salute to uninspired guitar solo-mongering. It is raucous and wild and he is surely the new paragon of the one-man band.