Music review: Seasick Steve, The Roundhouse, London

 

"It's hard to be different in this world of clones/ But I feel this music down in my bones," the bluesman preaches on new track "Keep on Keepin' On". Seasick Steve, born Steven Wold, is authentic, you see.

Raw. Real. A wandering minstrel who, at the ripe age of 65, hit pay dirt with a spine-tingling and smile-inducing performance of "Dog House Boogie" on his "three-string trance wonder" and "Mississippi drum machine" (a box, which he tapped with his weathered boot) on Jools Holland's Hootenanny show in 2006.

His joyous turn felt like the finale to a cheesy sports movie or the dance scene at the end of Napoleon Dynamite. The former hobo, jailbird ("I've been on the inside on Christmas Day" he howls on "Xmas Prison Blues") and busker had finally "arrived". Seasick couldn't possibly ride such an impossibly high wave again, but this cheerful, industrious soul has been prolific, releasing five albums in seven years. The standout being 2008's I Started Out with Nothin' and I Still Got Most of It Left.

The Californian's latest, Hubcap Music (one of his guitars is made from "two hubcaps and a garden hoe"), is his most polished yet and features luminaries such as Jack White and Led Zep's bassist John Paul Jones, who accompanies Seasick here. However, despite his famous new pals Steve is still a grounded individual as evidenced by the fact he's bookended his new record with the engine sound of his beloved tractor.

Tonight starts with "Amazing Grace", sung by his robust backing singers, and the mournful hymn sets the tone for night. The experience feels more solemn and serious, less joyful. The ever-grinning singer, with his trademark John Deere cap and Santa beard, usually provides a raft of compelling anecdotes about life on the road, prison and so on, but not here. He sounds a tad weary, frankly.

"You ain't tired of it yet?" the 71-year-old asks us before going through the "old" routine of asking a woman to join him on stage for plaintive track "Walking Man, on which he pleads: "My name is Steve and I'm your walking man."

"I wish you up here with me and felt all the love in here," he maintains at one point, and the audience certainly seem to have an appetite for his ramshackle blues, some even gamely square dance awkwardly, others yell "Steve-o". However, for all his vigorous, snarling blues, everything feels a bit flat and predictable. Like a poor sequel to a terrific original film.

Comments