G.Love and Special Sauce, Bonjah @ The Hi Fi Bar, Melbourne (18/11/09)

While there are still a couple of die-hard buskers holding court on the sizzling footpath outside the Hi Fi Bar and Ballroom, Melbourne’s most well-known brothers of busk are onstage inside. The five-strong Bonjah teeter on the edge of an equipment laden stage: bassist David Morgan tucked behind guitarist Regan Lethbridge, drummer Dan Chisholm and vocalist Glenn Mossop centred, with percussionist James Majernik waaaaay over the other side.

By the time I find my feet Mossop has shrugged off his acoustic guitar and is channelling the shaman to a cacophony: funk, rock, blues and roots all meld into the perfect soundtrack for a stifling Melbourne night.

Galloping, radio-friendly Fly is a highlight: neat, quick electric riffs over a solid, addictive groove with plenty of talk from the percussion arm – cowbells and gíƒÆ’킼iro getting a work out, rapid-fire snares keeping pace (and that’s not even covering the drumkit.)

Karma delivers more clever (if not entirely un-derivative) rhythm for meandering lead breaks and slide guitar. Husky vocals soar, the cowbell remains embraced and overall my introduction to Bonjah is good: passionate, expert and ready for broader consumption at once.

G.Love and Special Sauce lope onstage, dressed in black, and G.Love – his trademark hat upturned to expose ears and forehead – yells, –  “How you doing, y’all?’ to rapturous response.

G.Love – Garrett Dutton the 3rd, if you will – is about seven feet tall, slim, all legs and arms. His emerald green electric guitar – the only splash of brilliant colour on stage – hangs from his neck as does a harmonica on a wire. It seems that the trick to juggling two instruments and the vocal duties is keeping time – with the knees.

The first track is Blues Music (from the self-titled 1994 G.Love and Special Sauce debut); the R’n’B rhythm made sexier with the harp and as G.Love heads into a leadbreak his daddy-long-legs are controlled by the knees. When the knees swing apart and together with the beat it’s as though they are playing a piano accordian; naturally, the thighs and shins must follow.

Lusty swamp music changes up to a quick bridge – a rush of excitement – then back down south. Pianist Mark Boyce (who looks decidedly like a truckdriver; trucker cap, goatee) launches a fervent solo that has the Korg rocking. A gospel church somewhere just got the feeling someone was walking over its grave.

The baton goes back to G.Love with harp, guitar fingers and the all-controlling knees bringing it down softly to allow for another rollicking keyboard solo: the Norg organ Boyce plays this solo on is a lighter, more jangly sounding instrument than his gospel-channelling Korg but is played no less expertly. And then we break it down.

Bassist Timo Shanko comes in for his moment in the spotlight with G.Love keeping time on guitar (and knees) then the light swings back to Korg lushness. They really should have nailed that thing down.

Fatman (another from the debut) gets G.Love’s rap arm going – top half of him wanting to be a Beastie Boy, the bottom half sure it should still be sitting; how could he stand and have such confliction from the individual sections of his body. So much energy – music – coursing through the veins and still he controls it: alternating notes on harp with notes in voice. Sounds simple but surely can’t be.

Baby’s Got Sauce marks the first time tonight that G.Love’s held a long note – upper octave singing is not where he lives – and the crowd yells appreciatively. He vocalises in music just like he talks: expressive, arms out, palms open when asking questions in song or rhyme. Finally the material prompts him to stand up, wrenching the mic from its stand for use as a slide on the guitar fret.

It’s a country and western jaunt next which for some reason goes all wrong for my ears. The keys are filling the gap where a harp should be. The bass and groove should be boss but are overshadowed by an alien-landing feedback sound that sets my teeth on edge. G.Love gets all caught up in it, knocking his mic stand into the audience, shaking the hand that catches it, then wandering the stage leaving a trail of guitar solo behind him.

Seeing him on foot is enough to hype an encore type situation, but it’s not over yet. We’re just warming up. The band disperses, sending G.Love back to walk the stage edge, touching outstretched hands, connecting with the Downunder fans he feels such an affinity with. He grabs a beautiful hollow-body acoustic guitar and, promising something “more romantic”, kicks off Gimme Some Lovin’ eliciting a soul clap from the audience.

Superhero Brother gives him a chance to work out the singing voice – a quiet falsetto, clear and true if not excellent. People are getting a bit chatty around me, which’ll happen when you finish the first bracket on such a high, only to launch the second in an acoustic vibe. Booty Call is delivered with cheek, getting the crowd involved with rowdy call and response and happily received sexual innuendo (female harmonica players; think about it).

In all seriousness, your mum would giggle like a school girl if G.Love spoke to her like that: it’s the Elvis snarl, the Philly drawl, the big brown eyes and the clear love of women that I’m sure lets him get away with untapped cheekiness on an international level.

He leads the crowd in imploring Special Sauce to assume their positions and goes about re-defining “snake-hipped” with his tight-fitting black jeans (not skinny jeans, mind), shiny black shirt and crazy harp playing. We’re all on board, clapping as he slings the guitar back on, takes a sip or water and spins to the microphone.

Suddenly, everything changes, everyone in the room recognises the riff and we’re all singing, –  “Why don’t we do it in the rain?’ at maximum level. Bluesmen can just never resist dropping that in somewhere, can they?

Purporting to “take it back to the old school” G.Love is moving like the rapper, guitar strung round his neck like a Public Enemy clock, rapping and harping in alternate breaths before Shanko launches into an awesome, epic blues solo on the bass. G.Love sends one “out to the Wu-Tang Clan”; the keys sound as tropical as the weather and the sound of a couple of hundred people singing –  “Ola ola hey’ reverberates as G.Love moshes about like a gangsta (rapper that is). Things are really getting loose, just as the night is thinking about drawing to a close and back on the humid, airless Melbourne street I can’t help but think there’s really no one like Garrett Dutton the 3rd.