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.
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.
"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?
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.