Welcome To A Blast From The Past.
These articles are archives published online at BluesWax as The Blues Beat
we hope you enjoy reading them.
Originally Published May 19, 2004
Eric Sardinas and Bjørn Berge
The Underground, Cologne, Germany
By Vince Abbate
The 300-plus capacity Underground in Germany’s fourth largest city is a dark, raunchy venue with fifteen years’ worth of live music history plastered to its backstage walls. The band names on the bill in April – Ten Foot Pole, Brainless Wankers, Electric Eel Shock - tell you this is essentially an indie Rock club. But every once in a while the Blues comes to town. Texas guitar slinger Jay Hooks blew through last December leaving eardrums ringing. Young star Robert Randolph and his Family Band raised the roof in January. April kicked off with an eye opening Thursday evening performance by Canada’s great white hope, Charlie A’Court - the overture to a Friday night Blues double-header that was lewd, rude, and tattooed: Between Californian Eric Sardinas and Norway’s Bjørn Berge, who opened the show, there was more artfully decorated skin on display here than at your average Limp Bizkit concert.
The term “unique brand of Blues” is tossed around unconvincingly in press kits the world over – but in Bjørn Berge’s case the shoe fits. Norway’s best-selling Blues artist boldly mixes traditional Delta Blues with Hip-Hop and heavy Rock elements, playing this hybrid with mind-boggling speed and dexterity on six- and twelve-string guitars. Think Metallica doing Robert Johnson (or Johnson doing Metallica) and you’ll be headed in the right direction. Berge capped a string of successful albums in his homeland by winning Norway’s equivalent of the Grammy for 2002′s Illustrated Man, where covers of Johnson and Skip James rubbed elbows with the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Jethro Tull, and some funky, mean originals chock full of attitude. The CD has just been released in Germany and it took Berge just three nights supporting Sardinas to sell the hundred copies he’d brought along.
The brawny, black-clad guitarist opened his short solo set playing a twelve-string Takamine with metal fingerpicks and a glass slide. After ten minutes of damn-the-torpedoes, full-speed-ahead guitar attack, the faint of heart were running for cover, while most of the small crowd had been converted. How many of them recognized “Ramblin’ On My Mind” and “Cypress Grove” or Berge’s hammer-hard take on “Travelin’ Riverside Blues” after he’d switched to a Danelectro is questionable. It’s as if he’s copped these lyrics and grafted them onto entirely new songs. Musically, he never leaves the Delta completely – his right foot stomped along John Lee Hooker-style on an amplified box throughout – while his vocals and aggressive approach seem more in line with the heavy sounds of the past decade. As if to prove it, he finished up with covers of Everlast (“Black Jesus”), the Chili Peppers’ “Give It Away” (“Are you ready to meet the funkiest man alive?”) and Motörhead‘s “Ace Of Spades.” Eight breakneck songs in just over a half-hour. By the end, sweat was cascading down the big man’s face and this reviewer needed a breather. And a beer. Whew.
A few hours before showtime, I’d asked Eric Sardinas’s bassist Paul Loranger about a set list. He looked at me apologetically and explained how the band traditionally opens with something Elmore James-inspired, then shifts into Hendrix mode. “They don’t have titles,” he said before rattling off the rest of the set, which included Willie Dixon‘s “Down In The Bottom,” Muddy Waters‘ “Can’t Be Satisfied,” as well as Sardinas originals like “Flames Of Love” and “Treat Me Right.” “That’s all we’ll have time for.” The trio was scheduled to play for two hours. They only had time for eight songs? Hmm. I guess there are going to be some pretty long guitar solos tonight.
And indeed there were. Sardinas’ first song (or was it his second?) seemed to last as long as Bjørn Berge’s entire set. With a funky-looking, straw cowboy hat, alligator thing pulled way down low on his brow, the guitarist was apparently finding his zone. A glance around the room; some were bored, some already grooving. A festival promoter from Belgium nodded his head in approval. “Can’t Be Satisfied” was potent and more to the point, clocking in at around six to eight minutes (I’m guessing). By now, Sardinas had emerged from his shell and was putting his best showbiz qualities to work. There’s nothing subtle about his act, his electric Dobro slide playing or his wardrobe – the phrase “over the top” comes to mind – but if you’ve got it, why not flaunt it? The band, which also includes Mike Dupke on drums, does 250 to 300 shows a year and whether you like their unrestrained brand of Blues or not, they’ve got it down. The Friday night audience, which had by now swelled to over a hundred, ate it up.
I had the privilege of watching the second half of the show a few feet from Dupke’s left shoulder and that’s where it really hit me. What looks like child’s play when you’re out front watching Sardinas splash a full bottle of beer across the neck of his guitar, take a swallow, and spit the contents onto the ceiling, is hard to take to this level of perfection. With a mixture of awe and admiration, I watched Dupke do his job, working with Loranger to provide the rock solid launching pad from which Sardinas blasts into the stratosphere. I examined the faces of the brave souls down front, some with their eyes closed in reverie, most fixed on the slender guitarist with the phrase “Respect Tradition” tattooed in block letters across his back. And when I wasn’t watching, I was bopping around the backstage area. The groove had been waiting there patiently.
Sardinas’s tattoo notwithstanding, this was not a night for the traditionalist, conservative Blues fan. But both Eric Sardinas and Bjørn Berge know where they’re coming from. They play hard-hitting, headbanging Blues with the kind of visuals that make young, uninitiated audiences take the time to listen.
Vince Abbate is a contributing editor to BluesWax.
About the Author: