BLUES LEGEND: Charlie Musselwhite during his Splendour In The Grass set with Ben Harper.
BLUES LEGEND: Charlie Musselwhite during his Splendour In The Grass set with Ben Harper. IAN LAIDLAW

A blues alchemy

THE past, present and future of the blues collapsed into one beautiful, haunting explosion last night as Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite graced the GW McLennan Tent stage at Splendour In The Grass.

Harper, typically on electric bottleneck guitar, and Musselwhite, blowing tender and tortured melody into his harmonica, drew heavily from their second collaborative album, No Mercy In This Land.

Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, Splendour In The Grass 2018.
Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, Splendour In The Grass 2018. IAN_LAIDLAW

It wasn't a huge crowd for the pairs 10pm set, but it was one of the festival's most devoted, with the audience riding every word uttered by Musselwhite. It is a voice people say is getting better with age, and also one that words are woefully inadequate to describe.

Harper says Musselwhite "transforms notes into emotions that feel both hauntingly familiar and brand new, as if hearing them for the first time every time,” and with that rare ability, Musselwhite had the audience from the first note.

Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, Splendour In The Grass 2018.
Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, Splendour In The Grass 2018. IAN_LAIDLAW

"You can't escape...the blues will overtake you,” Harper, with his Stetson hat tilted down over his face, warned the crowd before delving into 'I Don't Believe A Word You Say', a song he dedicated to the "soon-to-be next ex-President of the United States of America”, much to the raucous cheers of the crowd.

A highlight of the set was the pair's performance of the title track off of No Mercy In This Land, which Harper controls while Musselwhite broods on harmonica.

Then comes the last verse, when the 74-year-old Musselwhite takes over.

Father left us down here all alone / My poor mother lies under a stone

With an aching heart and trembling hands / Is there no mercy in this land?

Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, Splendour In The Grass 2018.
Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite, Splendour In The Grass 2018. IAN_LAIDLAW

The song was written by Harper in part dedication to the 2005 murder of Musselwhite's mother in Memphis.

The audience's appreciation was absolute. Harper then hoed into another screaming slide guitar solo.



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