Race and Russo are Hooked on John Lee

hugo wheatyDateline: Adelaide. Hugo Race (pictured right) and Michelangelo Russo arrived at the venue shortly after 4pm, just in time for a swift soundcheck, have a couple of beers, smoke a couple of rollies and a cigar (respectively) while Michael Plater was on.

Quizzed later about their 4am wake-up to drive from St Kilda to Adelaide’s West End, Hugo denied it being a hard trip. "Warsaw to Paris, that’s a hard drive" … you knew he meant non-stop.

And it’s not the first time Hugo’s done this drive; this time he was captivated by the patterns of light, the yellows of the rapeseed, a stand of blasted trees waving in the wind… Charlie Marshall does this kind of thing. Not so much old school as a rediscovery of the essence of travel.

michaelangelo russo wheatyMichaelangelo Russo

Hugo Race and Michelangelo Russo present John Lee Hooker’s World Today
+ Michael Plater
Wheatsheaf Hotel, Adelaide
September 24, 2017

Since my review of "John Lee Hooker’s World Today" here on I94bar, there’s been a few negative reviews - there’s a German blues mag which is apparently quite outraged. You’d think that would be a bit odd, as Hugo has been making very fine records for some decades now. Unlike him to drop the ball.

But he hasn’t. The German blues mag aside (you can have fun reading the headline, "Ignorant Australian white boys ruin the legacy of a dead black icon (and while they’re about it, sodomise the corpse)", Race and Russo’s re-imagining of Hooker’s music is as purely spiritual as it gets.

Certainly they used modern instruments: Russo simply has a table of gadgets and pedals, and the occasional use of a harmonica is the only traditional musical instrument. Yet their harmonies, the grace and burling power of the music, the slow-burning chug, all coupled to Race’s performance - magnificent mike work, engaging interaction with the crowd and … yeah, the simple gripping intensity takes you by surprise and, unless you’re forcibly distracted, you’ll remain fixed on the stage throughout. 

Of course some few people simply don’t get it; a couple chat, squint at phones, and scuttle out. That’s fine, of course, because the vast majority here tonight are thrilled, intoxicated. An old dear friend of mine came down from the outer sticks (about a two hour drive, rare for her and for Adelaide) for this; she saw John Lee Hooker on her own in the USA in 1989, none of her cool pals wanted to go because it wasn’t punk rock (or somesuch), and she was blown away by the real deal.

And tonight she’s responding in the same way, knew the instant Russo began his music where these men are going, what they’re about. Along with quite a few others, she bought the LP. 

plater and brennanPlater and Brennan.

Michael Plater was the support, and was as usual rather bloody magnificent. Race and Plater have much in common, though they don’t sound alike. Firstly, there is a great empathy in their work, a familiarity and acceptance of the way we are. Punk rock may rail and yowl, but it hasn’t contributed much to riots in the streets for many years (much less actual change, and that includes MDC’s "No Trump, No KKK, No Fascist USA" chant). Race and Plater both hold up a sympathetic mirror; the two sets go remarkably well together.

Rosie Brennan assisted Michael Plater from time to time on bass; an excellent musician in her own right who provides creative backing which doesn’t overshadow the main performer. 

Plater’s last LP, "Mythologies", like Hugo’s LPs, is a frequent offender on my player.

Get "John Lee Hooker’s World Today" (among others) here.  Get "Mythologies" here.  

If you want to find out for yourself what they’re like live, hire them and bring them to your town.

Tags: hugo race, michael plater, michaelangelo russo, rosie brennan, wheatsheaf hotel

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  • Guest - Geoff

    While the German review is somewhat precious it does reflect the truth that there should be no need for them to use Hooker's name. They could do any old bluesmen's stuff, or there own, cos unfortunately Hugo can't even get the simplest Hooker feels. They should stand alone like any other blues/art/ambient artists.

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  • Guest - Geoff

    While the German review is somewhat precious it does reflect the truth that they shouldn't be no need for them to use Hooker's name as shoulders to stand on. Hugo can't reflect Hooker's style in any way. Doing what they do they could play any blues stuff (or not) and it would be the same. They should stand alone as any old blues/ambient/grunge thing has to.

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