ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, SEPT. 26, 1996
What is it with Vancouver residents who can’t stand the sound of music emanating from an outdoor venue? I remember how the folks living in the Hastings-and-Renfrew area used to beef about the volume of daylong rock concerts at Empire Stadium in the mid-’70s, as if anybody living in the vicinity of the PNE wasn’t used to a little racket.
But lately the whining has gotten out of hand, as when people housed across from Nat Bailey Stadium were interviewed on TV complaining about the intolerable noise levels reached by easy-listening faves the Moody Blues.
Now it seems as though you can’t even have a blues band play on Granville Island without the condo owners in False Creek getting all bent out of shape. What’s the world coming to when the unsettling roar of an Indy car takes precedence over an emotive guitar lick?
We showed up on the first day of the weekend Granville Island Blues Festival last Saturday (September 21) at about 4:30 p.m., while Brickhouse was in full swing, entertaining an all-ages crowd of about 200 coffee-sipping, ice cream–licking music fans. The band was riffing through a few originals and the occasional B.B. King cover, warming up for a gig at the Lamplighter that night, and the calls were already coming in about the excessive noise.
Now, Brickhouse is a band that exudes a lot of energy, but does it more with instrumental dynamics than sheer volume. I couldn’t wait to hear the bellyaching once the next act, the Wailin’ Walker Band, started flailing away.
I didn’t have to wait long. During the band’s third selection, Peter Green’s slinky “Jumping at Shadows”, security quickly marched up to deliver the news about continued griping from False Creek residents. “I’m gonna tell you what I tell everybody when this always happens,” announced Walker, “that we’re turning it down right now.” Then the buzz-saw boogiemeister lowered the level on his amp about one-twentieth of a notch and let his red Telecaster rip, Johnny Winter–style, on a tune called “Drinking Beer”. “Yeah, that’s turning it down,” he proclaimed later, after making me think about fighting for a seat at the nearby Backstage Lounge.
Next up on the canopy-covered stage were the Vaqueros, but they didn’t seem bent on pushing the volume envelope quite so much. Maybe they realized that, at 6:15 p.m., it was getting past bedtime for the area taxpayers. Guitarist Tony Robertson got brownie points for his choice of instrument alone—the classic white Strat with maple neck—and his soaring Texas-blues licks contrasted nicely with the linear, Danny Gatton–style speed-riffs of the Vaqueros’ other string-bender.
The band knocked off a couple of standard 12-bar shuffles before calling venerable local R&B heavyweight Long John Baldry up to close things down with his inimitable, growly-voiced style. With a Greek captain’s hat topping his lanky frame, Baldry looked typically dapper and appropriately marinelike, but the deep power of his voice quickly outshone any fashion statements when he started into the ever-popular B.B. King’s “Every Day I Have the Blues”.
Baldry then paid tribute to his onstage predecessor by performing two songs by “Wailin’ ” Al Walker, which gave local keyboard ace “Sneaky” Pete Sweetzir the opportunity to rattle the piano keys with some serious honky-tonk. Baldry ended the show with the T-Bone Walker classic “Stormy Monday”, switching the words at one point to get a thanks in to “Storman” Norman, the local musician and radio personality who organized and emceed the event.
I was hoping that Norm would get up there and top things off with some of his wild harmonica-playing, but I guess it’s good he didn’t, as there’s nothing like the sound of someone totally groovin’ to get the party poopers within earshot up in arms.