SYDNEY FESTIVAL: Vieux Farka Touré + The Mess Hall + Dan Sultan – Beck's Festival Bar (15.01.10)


Heralding all the way from Mali, Vieux Farka Touré headlined Beck’s Festival Bar on Friday night for his first ever Sydney performance, carrying on the legacy of his father, Ali Farka Touré, while being a highly respected musician in his own right.

First up was Dan Sultan and band, who has been dubbed “the black Elvis” by fellow performer Clare Bowditch, with his fusion of roots-blues-country rock. In theory this should be something original and exciting – but it really felt like the same old story. As my friend and I drank our Becks, we felt more focused on this action than on the music itself. That’s not to say I found it bad, it was pretty easy listening, and they were all good musicians – I just felt that I’d heard the same sort of music so many times before, that it felt little more than background noise in the context of the evening.

The Mess Hall, however, don’t suffer from the same effect – the Sydney two piece are well known for their “bluesy rock”, with riffs that you can’t get out of your head, and drum beats that rock your inner being long after you’ve left the concert. Well, that’s how I usually feel about them. With the set predominantly leaning on their latest LP, “For The Birds”, the songs simply didn’t have the power that can be found in their older material. With the set ending on the hypnotically catchy “Keep Walking”, it was this track that you’d find yourself singing in the hours following the gig, leaving the rest of the set in the dust.

The man the sold out crowd was here to see, Vieux Farka Touré, followed soon after; the Malian man perfoming in style with a full band. An aura of “cool” was set over the crowd when he stepped onto the stage – this was a man who had a highly respected music legacy behind him, and we all eagerly anticipated what he’d bring to the stage.

Immediately you could hear so many influences in his music. He openly admits to his favourite musicians being Phil Collins and Brian Adams, and he follows this up with a guitar style that mimics many Western guitar gods. But the music is indeed African blues – Vieux has simply added a distinctive edge to it that makes it quite entralling, and wholly his own – especially when he and the band set themselves into a jam (which included ‘Frère Jacques’ at one point).

A highly entertaining set in the purest sense, tonight was yet another musical treat from Sydney Festival. Now if only I spoke the language, I could have sung along! 

Larry Heath

Founding Editor and Publisher of the AU review. Currently based in Toronto, Canada. You can follow him on Twitter @larry_heath or on Instagram @larryheath.