The Fly by Night Musicians Club is a not for profit community musicians club and music venue located in the heart of Fremantle, Western Australia.

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Tony Joe White: Australian Tour Live Review

Love Police Touring and the Fly By Night presented the Swamp Fox Tony Joe White for two sold-out shows.

Tony Joe White, the inventor of popular swamp music and its signature sound made a huge impression on the final leg of his Australian tour. Playing to a sold-out crowd at the Fly Sunday night, the Victoria Hall came alive with passionate rhythms and an understated pulsating energy you could cut with a dull switchblade. How any quality blues performance should be.

Setting the tone was local support Lightnin’ Jack, a multi-instrumentalist from WA. Playing a solo set inspired by slide-driven blues, he opened with a song about travelling miles as a musician. His performance was thick with greasy grooves and smooth rolling beats. Lightning’ Jack played a handful of songs off his latest album South West Sessions, including a gun slinging ballad he wrote last year in Uluru. Armed with his steel resonator guitar, the room filled up with gritty vocals and finger-picking funk. The real crowd stealer was a song dedicated to a friend who passed away in a car accident. The heartfelt track silenced the room into a mesmerised state before he bounced back into catchy metallic blues. Jack finished with an energetic number he wrote in Freo 12 years ago where he really let loose.

Lighting Jack | Tony Joe White

Tony Joe White slinked on stage next exuding the shadowy mystery of the blues. Hidden behind a hat and dark shades with nothing more than a “how ya’ll doing”, he started with an acoustic version of Way Down South. His vocals were deep and magnetic, channelled by wailing harmonica and distinctive guitar movements. The audience sat deadly silent, gripped by the rhythmic intensity.

Stepping things up with his drummer, the venue turned into a loud and vibrant setting with kick-drum-driven beats and twangy guitar sounds. Undercover Agent for the Blues was edgy and full of life. Tony Joe White’s rough but well-polished vocals bled the blues, proving instantly he’s well and truly the Swamp Fox. Throughout the set, he maintained this ‘cool cat’ demeanour which contributed to the moody vibe. The blues icon was intriguing and continually left you wondering what was around the corner.

The groove lingered with Roosevelt and Ira Lee, a tasty number that made you want to get up and boogie. Guitar solos were ramped up at every opportunity, especially in The Guitar Don’t Lie. His sensational foreplay of imagery through words painted clear pictures of the stories told, leaving you captivated and contempt. Weaving tales of moonshine, women, alligators and living by the swamp, Tony Joe White stayed true to those foot-stomping blues.

Tony Joe White

The American singer/songwriter pulled some tracks from his latest offering, Rain Crow. A highlight of the album was the simmering, slick and steamy Hoochie WomanThe Bad Wind also made a lasting impressing, with blues-ballad lyrics that seized your soul. Tony Joe White reminisced about his childhood growing up on a cotton farm where they could never get enough rain. He told a story of a man who had said to him until you hear the rain crow, it ain’t gonna rain. “That’s the first time I heard about a rain crow”, TJW said, before delving into the song. After a slight chuckle later, he admitted he was still looking for the rain crow.

The well-rounded setlist had songs that held the crowd in the palm of his hand, then lifted them back into a blues-rockin’ frenzy. Conjure Child was another from the new album, a follow-up from his 1970 classic Conjure Woman. TJW included a requested track, High Sheriff of Calhoun Parish before the raunchy guitar riffs of Polk Salad Annie took hold. The set was finalised with an instrumental fusion of psychedelic guitar swirls, drums and harmonica goodness.

Fans waited in anticipation for what seemed like an eternity. People were stomping the ground for more, itching for another fix of those dirty blues. Finally, TJW prowled back on stage for the encore. “You make all the miles worthwhile”, he breathed to the audience. “It’s a cool place to play too, I like this place”. He was in his comfort zone and everyone in the room could feel it.  The gutsy guitar solos of Who You Gonna Hoodoo Now broke the room into a cheer and a second encore of the sultry Steamy Windows guaranteed fans left impressed.

What was fascinating throughout his performance was the number of people who had their eyes closed. They paid to see him in the flesh but all that really mattered were the sleek sounds of his guitar, the quality of his vocals and the consistent intensity of the beat that became engraved in your soul. They were totally entranced by the listening experience. And the massive impact of sound only did it justice.

Whether he’s playing tracks from his extensive back catalogue or his latest album matters not, the groove is the thing. And there’s nothing to do but close your eyes and be transported to the swamp. There’s a sense of mystery and realness to his performance that fits perfectly. Listening to Tony Joe White is as raw as the hangover from whisky, but as smooth as the taste you get when it first hits your mouth. His voice alone could hold a crowd for hours, a rare gem in the world of blues music that should be treasured.

Tony Joe White

Words by Jayde Ferguson | Toward Music

Photography | Rob Walker 

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