At any live show with a big screen, one does occasionally catch themselves watching the two-dimensional broadcast of the performance, rather than the live act itself. This is forgivable. But there’s a strange phenomenon at Bluesfest. At no other festival do punters, who have parted with hard-earned cash, turn their chairs away from the stage, their backs to the artists, to solely pay attention to a giant screen. It’s nothing short of a giant middle finger to the world-class performers who have visited our shores to play. Who are these low-lives? Who are these Orwellian mind slaves? Which rock did they crawl out from under? They should be dragged through the Bluesfest gates, their bodies displayed as a warning to those that dare mirror their shameful behaviour, their cheap deckchairs burned in great pyres.
On a lighter note, William Crighton slays his third performance at the festival, this time at 1.30pm in the Delta tent, a stage more central within the Bluesfest layout. As such, the Hunter-based songwriter is the recipient of casual and curious gawkers whose ears are caught as they wander into his powerful and raw music’s vicinity.
Ethereal Swedish-Argentinian folkster José González certainly has a captivating presence on stage, but in the voluminous Crossroads tent it seems too difficult for punters to pay attention to him. Even when he performs his spine-tingling rendition of ‘Teardrop’, originally by British trip-hop group Massive Attack, members of the crowd are content to laugh and chat, or film the entire song on their phones. It’s a shame, as González deserves unbridled focus.
First Aid Kit consists of Klara and Johanna Söderberg, the two daughters of the Norse god Odin who were born in the distant past, worshipped through the ages for their beauty and otherworldly melodies. They descend upon Byron Bay from the heavens, bringing with them a sound of equally lofty birth. Given that the Swedish-raised sisters are touring in support of new record, Ruins, the record informs much of the setlist: ‘Postcards’, ‘Fireworks’, ‘Rebel Heart’, ‘It’s A Shame’ and the title track. They also play the caustic single ‘You Are the Problem Here’, a fiery rebuke to toxic masculinity. Klara takes a moment after the song to enforce its message. Fan favourites such as ‘Emmylou’, ‘Stay Gold’ and ‘My Silver Lining’ make an appearance, each forged in the sisters’ stunning and radiant harmonies. They’re the best vocal pairing on the planet.
Seal steps out on to the Crossroads stage and promptly uses his voice to fertilize the ovum present in the audience. Within minutes he’s multiplied the number of children conceived at this year’s festival. An impressive effort. With his velvety voice, the singer and songwriter plays a varied set, from Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Move on Up’, to his Steve Miller Band cover of ‘Fly Like an Eagle’ for the peerless Space Jam soundtrack. As he descends into slow-burning intro for set closer ‘Crazy’, the heavens open and a rough and ready downpour of torrential rain saturates the already rather moist audience.
Rocker Melissa Etheridge plays with only a drummer and bassist, giving her set a raw thrust that brings the focus to the songwriter as a guitarist and vocalist. Etheridge has a tasteful and measured approach to her solos, sustaining notes and finding some deep grooves. A highlight is her cover of ‘Born Under a Bad Sign’, from her tribute to Memphis’ Stax Records. We’re also given the requisite hits, ‘Bring Me Some Water’, ‘I Want to Come Over’ and ‘Come to My Window’.
Morcheeba prove a very smooth finale to the day’s proceedings, playing their brand of soul-pop. Lead singer Skye Edwards is mesmerising as a front woman, the trail of her red dress never touching the stage thanks to a fan at the front of the stage. They play their choice cuts, plus a cover of Bowie’s ‘Let’s Dance’. The finale is their mainstream hit ‘Rome Wasn’t Built in a Day’. A class act.