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C.W. STONEKING @ Fremantle Town Hall

cwstonekingFremantle Town Hall
Friday, October 28, 2016

C.W. Stoneking kicked off the Fremantle Festival on Friday night with an exceptional set at the Fremantle Town Hall – playing a catalogue of favourites spanning his decorated career.

C.W. Stoneking headlined the Fremantle Festival on Friday night in front of a large and amorous crowd at the Fremantle Town Hall. Without any support acts, fans were able to soak in a pleasantly mild spring evening in the beer garden before the music got underway. The City of Fremantle provided their cordial dues to those present for the opening night, which was predictable but warranted. The Fremantle Town Hall and the Fremantle Anglican Church have become a centrepiece of the festival. The adjoining beer garden featured hot-dog vendors, tasteful playlists, tables, chairs, bar staff dressed as sailors and pretty much anything else you could reasonably expect or hope for from a pop-up endeavour. 

Stoneking approached the mic dressed in a outfit so bleach-white it suggested he’d just arrived in Fremantle from the Caribbean via an Omo commercial. Glowing like an angelic infidel, he introduced himself and the band who have just completed a slog of dates together across the USA and Canada for the last few months. Stoneking has mixed and matched a number of instrumentalists for his touring repertoire over his career. His current line-up depicts the sound and direction of his latest album Gon Boogaloo which is a little more stripped back, with less of the horns and string sections and a stronger focus on the guitar – especially of the electric variety. Tonight C.W. Stoneking was accompanied by an all-female band of Jessica Lee Wilkes on the bass, Kendra Kilkuskie on drums with New York saxophone specialist Paula Henderson.

The set kicked off with the Stoneking front and centre plucking his gorgeous hollow-bodied Gretsch, before approaching the microphone and filling the hall with his dusty gramophone drawl. The percussion and saxophone ushered themselves into the soundscape discreetly, while the smooth double-bass plodded into focus for the warm and inviting opening to the set. The drummer and bass player were very prominent on the microphones, with their sweetly high harmonies providing a captivating dynamic with Stoneking – especially on recent hit The Zombie. The group got the crowd into the groove with a few fan favourites such as the dreamy Jungle Lullaby and  more upbeat Brave Son of America from 2009 album Jungle Blues.

Stoneking usually took to the mic between tracks, announcing the next song with a bit of a back story. He entertained the crowd with the story of Handyman Blues, where it appeared a school just made a job up for him so he could spend the day sleeping and relaxing around the grounds. He also shared how he lost his banjo in New York only to have it discovered months later by a woman who found it in the trash and called him asking what he wanted her to do with it. ‘Put it back in the trash where it belongs’, he told her. ‘I’m sick of the fucking banjo!’

On a couple of tracks, however Stoneking did reach for his National Duolian Dobro. He played glistening silver steel unplugged for several tracks adding a unique and truly vintage tone to the groups sound. Stoneking seemed most pleased when introducing songs from his newest album Gon Boogaloo. He said he got sick of some of the aspects of his ARIA Award winning album Jungle Blues, and wanted to get away from it as much as possible. ‘I was sick of jungle this and jungle that’ he said. However, he reflected with amusement, ‘I still found a way to let two songs about the jungle onto my next album anyway’.

The band played through one such track (The Jungle Swing), as well as other new highlights The Thing I Done, and Tomorrow Gon Be Too Late. The group picked up the pace a little for the end of the set giving Stoneking and the rest of the band an opportunity to display their amazing instrumental skills and just how they have developed as playing group during extensive international touring.

Possibly the only thing a C.W. Stoneking fan could have been underwhelmed by on the night was that the current touring line-up simply did not have the arsenal to recreate all the sounds one might have enjoyed on the album versions of the songs. While each band member was sensational, they could not be expected to employ the same depth of sound as a horn section, or a string section – and there certainly wasn’t going to be a banjo in sight either!

Ultimately C.W. Stoneking should consider his current line-up, their shared national tour and their Fremantle Festival debut as a triumph. The performance was granted the encore it deserved and the packed-out town hall was nothing short of thrilled by their encounter with the strange and enduring figure of the jungle bluesman.

BRAYDEN EDWARDS

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