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Issue 1084

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The James Hunter Six and The Dustaphonics: Islington Assembly Hall, 28/03/13

The James Hunter Six: Islington Assembly Hall, London 28/03/13
The James Hunter Six: Islington Assembly Hall, London 28/03/13 The James Hunter Six: Islington Assembly Hall, London 28/03/13 The James Hunter Six: Islington Assembly Hall, London 28/03/13 The James Hunter Six: Islington Assembly Hall, London 28/03/13

Expectations ran high. The new album from The James Hunter Six, âMinute By Minuteâ, had just been released in the UK, and the gig was a sell out.

The Dustaphonics charged headlong into two pounding tributes to Bo Diddley. Vivacious Hayley Cliberry held the stage with her vibrant style and powerful vocals, and the band, consisting of Yvan Serrano-Fontova on guitar, Dan Whaley on bass, Eric Frajria on drums and Bruce Brand on percussion, soon had the beautifully sprung floor bouncing. The Dustaphonicsâ exuberance was infectious, and the diverse audience was soon responding to entreaties to âSay Yeah!â and groove along to fast and furious rock ânâ roll songs like âWhen You Gonna Learnâ and âGrand Prixâ

Auburn locks flowing, Ms. Cliberry mesmerised the audience with her slinky gyrations to âShowman Twang Tiki Godsâ, an instrumental surf number. Next, a gospel song, âDonât Let the Devilâ, was given a rock ânâ roll twist, with dynamic guitar. The set continued with the funky âChicago Birdâ, and the driving drum beat of âLondon Townâ, title track from the forthcoming album. The moody âJinxâ followed, with its heavy soul vibe, and then it was back into dance mode for the remainder of the set. Cliberryâs impressive heels got the better of her as she stumbled to the floor during âMojo Yar Bonesâ, but she soldiered on, joking about it afterwards and demanding that we cheer, should she perform the same trick again. Thankfully, she didnât, and âParty Girlâ, the title track from the debut album (2012), passed without a hitch. The Dustaphonics said their farewells to the instrumental, âEat My Dust A Phonicâ, amidst enthusiastic applause, ending a well chosen, high energy set.

Loud cheering from the packed house greeted The James Hunter Six, minus one, as they strolled onstage to play the devilishly cool theme to the 1960 film, âSaturday Night and Sunday Morningâ. Mr. Hunter then appeared, to yet more applause, and the show leapt into full gear with the driving âSheâs Got A Wayâ. Hunterâs soulful voice packed a punch, and each took an impressive turn in the spotlight; Hunter on guitar, Andy Kingslow on keyboards, Jason Wilson on double bass, Jonathan Lee back on drums, Damian Hand on tenor sax and Lee Badau on baritone sax.

In âChicken Switchâ, a refreshingly unorthodox new song about not being afraid to take the easy option, Hunterâs manically innovative guitar and a lively cha cha beat were used to dazzling effect. Both guitar and horns clucked away, culminating in a convincing chicken impression from Hunter himself. These guys are cool, but their engagingly boyish sense of humour always prevails. This was most apparent during the rabble-rousing, âBaby Donât Do Itâ by The â5â Royales. Poised in anticipation for the big break, a stray note from Badauâs sax spectacularly broke the silence. After some merciless ribbing, Hunter brazenly launched into the theme from âThe Muppet Showâ, which had the audience roaring with laughter. Lest the hapless sax-player feel too dispirited, a sympathetic voice piped up, âWe love you, Lee!â Taking a deep breath, the band started up again, and, with Hunterâs screeching vocals and incredible stinging guitar, take two was perfection itself, reaching ever-soaring heights.

âGold Mineâ was an intriguing, and highly successful, experiment in band synchronicity. As the song began, Hunter clearly wanted more speed, and, rather than start again, he literally cranked it up, using winding motions with his guitar, while the rest of the band took his direction. âOne Way Loveâ, another track from the new album, maintained this vigorous pace, and here, Hunter introduced the band with his usual irreverent charm. He then moved swiftly into the super-funky âNo Smoke Without Fireâ. Outstanding solos once again demonstrated the unique combination that makes this band the force that it is. By now, the floor was quite literally jumping, and the customary Hunter sweat pouring.

âHeartbreakâ brought about a change of mood, and was a real highlight in a show full of them. Jonathan Lee set the mood with a softly rolling Latin drum beat. Horns were sparse and guitar sweetly melodic, allowing Hunterâs emotive voice to ring out with a soulful aching that was almost palpable. The haunting tenor sax combined with the gradually diminishing vocal at the end was simply sublime. In contrast, âJacquelineâ, an exhilarating, life-affirming dance number written for the late Mrs. Hunter, was a joyful tribute that had everyone dancing with cheerful abandon. This was followed by the sumptuous âLet the Monkey Rideâ, with its gentle ska beat and melting horns. Easing effortlessly into a falsetto, to harmonize with his guitar, Hunter once again showed his versatility. The other end of the vocal spectrum came into play in the âTequilaâ-style âThe Gypsyâ, where Hunter growled his way through this darkly comic tale of the gypsy who doles out dire warnings but fails to foresee the doom towards which heâs heading. While the beat bounced along, the ominous tone was artfully reflected in the honking of Badauâs sax and Hunterâs responding guitar licks.

Leiber and Butlerâs âDown Home Girlâ came next; the second of only two covers in an otherwise original set that crossed three albums. This funky track was a perfect choice for a band thatâs so good at getting down and dirty. Towards the end of the night came the title track of the newly released album, âMinute By Minuteâ. The song started boldly with a heavy, determined beat, and cleverly filled out to glorious effect. The penultimate song was the ever-popular âCarinaâ; the ultimate sunshine song, with its beautiful, yearning vocal, soft ska beat and warm sax harmonies. News that the show was soon to end was met with sounds of dismay. However, the set ended on a New Orleans high, with the crazy, jaw-dropping guitar antics of âBelieve Me Babyâ, after which the band left the stage to noisy and well-deserved rapture.

After spirited demands for an encore, the band, minus its singer, returned for a lengthy lead into âAll Through Cryinââ, where they each let rip with accomplished fervour until, finally, Hunter returned to take his place. âTalking âBout My Loveâ then provided a rockinâ finish to an amazing show, with electrifying guitar tricks, madly athletic Cossack dancing, and rowdy audience participation to boot.

A truly wonderful night, James Hunter sounded his grittiest and most soulful, and his idiosyncratic guitar was formidable. Fans expect nothing but the best, and tonight, we got this and more. The new material seemed to me better than ever, broadening the scope of the edgy, and yet finely honed, delivery that we know and love. Shimmying hips and looks of elation provided ample evidence of that high youâre most certainly guaranteed when you see this extraordinary band perform. Feel-good music of this calibre really canât get much better than this.
Words Sharnalee Foster

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