Call me cynical. And, I must confess, I’ve a longstanding vendetta against The Basement, ever since it, inexplicably, gave away my table, booked months out, to Blossom Dearie, only to offer me one with no view whatsoever, without apology; let alone the numerous times, as a reviewer, I’ve been turned away, unceremoniously, thanks to some, ah, slip-up, whereby my name didn’t make it to the guestlist. Yet none of this is at play. Nor the fact that sundry selfish and annoying taller punters sought to usurp my own, personal Gaza Strip, by the side of the stage, whereby I had some semblance of a potential, imaginary view of the act at hand. Nor the fact that it was too damn hot, as oppressive as down by the alligator-infested bayou, as it customarily is, in said overrated, under-berated venue. None of the foregoing is at play. If it is, only marginally. It didn’t even help that I found myself standing next to one of Australia’s best songwriters, in Don Walker.
The fact is Seasick’s legend by far transcends his ability and distinction, as a bluesman. He’s, well, ordinary. It’s all very tempting to rate him quite otherwise: I adulate the idea of ‘poor, white trash’ rising to prominence in his autumn years. It fits my politic, to a tee. Yet we, in the, still, largely unsung Antipodes, boast a bevy of artists who blow the backside off Seasick. Whether the powerhouse Ash Grunwald, sensitive Xavier Rudd, or Blue King Brown. Or a host of others I could name, reaching right back to Margaret Roadknight and, probably, beyond. Including the unannounced, but captivating support, Steve Smyth, who hails from our own rugged heartland and who poured and pumped out a set of Latin-tinged blues ballads, with vocal stylings lying somewhere, murkily, between Tiny Tim & Tom (Waits). For mine, he was the headline act.
One gets the feeling that the dude who nominated Seasick for this year's Mojo Best Breakthrough Act award was seeking self-promotion, on the basis of smart-arsed novelty, above all else. On the evidence, it’s certainly testimony to the absolute arbitrariness & vacuousness of celebrity; especially sudden celebrity.
It all makes for a truly great story of course: one hard-livin’ man, getting on stage, with a craptastic three-string guitar, singing songs of his downtrodden days.
Don’t get me wrong: Steve Wold is the real deal. His is the dirty, grungy, grimy, down-home, dog-eared, rustic, rough ‘n’ ready stuff of which the blues must be made. It’s just not quite enough. Seasick is unspectacular, if thoroughly engaging; or was, this particular night. All the hyperbole and wishful thinking in the world doesn’t enable a mediocre white man to insinuate himself into what is, first and foremost, a black man’s music. I don’t mean to be cruel. It’s just someone has to step off the bandwagon and have a really good look at things, with a little distance. Looks like that someone has to be me.
Think I’ll seek out, say, a Sonny Terry fix, soon as poss. Or, next time, just stay home and watch Soul Deep.
I wonder what Don thought. I was dying to ask.
Venue: The Basement | 29 Reiby Pl, Sydney
Date: 26 March 2008
Tickets: $43 plus booking fee.
Bookings: (02) 9251 2797 | www.thebasement.com.au