AWME: Mojo Juju + Emma Donovan and The Putbacks + Quarter Street + The Seven Ups – Max Watt’s House of Music, Melbourne (12/11/15)

To celebrate the opening night of The Australasian Worldwide Music Expo a killer lineup of some of Melbourne’s most interesting acts trading under the wide banner of funk/soul/groove music congregated at Max Watt’s last Thursday.

The amount of work that The Seven Ups have put into honing their act is now repaying them in spades. After working away on smaller stages and touring interstate it seemed natural to see them occupy the boards of the former Hi-Fi. The inclusion of congas is central to their take on funky afrobeat, providing a looseness to the groove reminiscent of Antibalas, and the dance moves provided by the horn section showed a sense of showmanship.

As the enigmatic MC of the night Chris Gill stated “you won’t believe these guys are from Melbourne”, but there was nothing hybrid or localised about the Salsa Dura that Quarter Street were putting out. At one point five of the nine-piece band members were playing percussive instruments; the constant rhythmic movement allowing the electric upright bass and keys the space to cascade their melodic lines and move around the beat.

Both Quarter Street and Emma Donovan and The Putbacks had won big at the previous night’s The Age Music Victoria Awards with the latter taking home Best Soul Funk Gospel and Best Indigenous Artist awards.

Throughout the majority of their set Donovan and co. kept the tempo low and soulful, giving the singer room to impress with her dynamic and powerful vocal delivery. More than a slight nod to Booker T. and the MG’s could be heard in a few of the songs, with The Putbacks’ country guitar licks, jazz drumming and funky basslines never overshadowing the emotional scope of the material. An a cappella piece stunned the room into silence, save for a few nattering at the bar, before the band tore in with the heavy funk strut of the Dawn album opener Black Woman.

Mojo Juju possesses a gutsy blues growl that would be sure to make Howlin’ Wolf, Tom Wait and Sister Rosetta Tharpe crack a sly grin. However, the diminutive singer knows to use this device sparingly, and thereby magnifying its power, opening the set with the downtempo Your Love, all single bass notes and brushes.

Parisian Rain’s latin feel showed the range that her ‘roots’ music encapsulates, as well as the proficiency of her band, which featured almost half of The Cactus Channel as well as baritone saxophonist Darcy McNulty.
A gospel revival song complete with call and response backing vocals was a highlight, and got many up the front shaking everything they had, before Mojo rounded out the set with a cover of Leon Payne’s Psycho.

With Gill immediately mounting the stage and answering the crowd’s pleas for more, Mojo and McNulty returned to the stage to perform a stripped down but no less passionate take on Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic I Put a Spell On You, an obvious selection that was immediately vindicated by the duo’s delivery.

Written for Beat Magazine, published on 18/11/2015.

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