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Seasick Steve at the Bootleg theater on Friday, April 7th, 2011

Homemade guitars and dirty muddy blues were at center stage during Seasick Steve performance on Friday night at the Bootleg. The club was packed as I have rarely seen it, people pressing themselves to the stage to see the 69 year-old man playing and singing his explosive blues, telling his stories about his hobo life, his childhood, his life on the road in the south.

Did I mention the large crowd? Sure the guy has drawn a lot of attention lately when he played just after Jack White on a parking lot at SXSW… As a matter of fact he has just recorded with White in Nashville, and signed to Third Man Records label, as he mentioned it during the show.

Seasick Steve, with his muscular and tall stature, his raucous voice, his grey long beard below a John Deere cap, still looks very green for his age, whatever hard his life been in the past. His great sense of humor and especially his impressive music style are so alive on stage you don’t want to miss any of the action.
And there was action, as he was constantly switching between his different guitars, his 3-string Trance Wonder, a beaten down guitar with only 3 strings, his diddley bow, a totally homemade instrument made of a piece of wood, a SpaghettiO’s can and a single string (I am not sure what he was doing with this screwdriver), and his very special and weird guitar built with a hubcap wheel of a vintage car (I read Terraplane Hudson on it). He was getting this unique and sick sound from these weirdo-trash instruments that he seemed to love like little babies of his, accompanied on stage by only one musician, Dan Magnusson, who drummed with passion and fury non-stop during the whole show.

I don’t think he is faking all this, I don’t think he is playing this ex-hobo-bluesman-turned-hipsters-star-in-a-night, because each of his songs transpire authenticity. Seasick Steve touchingly thanked and saluted the crowd after each song, he even shook the hand of everyone who was in the front at the end of his performance, and sincerity is hard to fake. Sure there’s more to the story, after his hobo life, he lived in Europe, turned his life around, returned to the US to set up a studio in Olympia, WA, and even recorded Modest Mouse’s first album. Since he has been living in many places, in Norway, England,… but when he takes the stage, the hobo, that has never left him, is completely back.

On Friday night, he played this old Mississippi blues, he shouted his old misery and rage with these bluesy eruptions and these ebullient discharges of notes, totally illustrated by this song, ‘Dog house boogie’, half sung, half narrated, and telling the story about him and his brother finding a loaded gun to kill their stepfather,… a true story, in real life he never shot him, but instead left home at 13 to flee the abuse.

The crowd was responding absolutely enthusiastically at each of these outbursts, calling him and interacting all the time. ‘Don’t get too excited’ said Seasick Steve when he was about to remove his shirt,… the crowd was whistling, and making noise… ‘There are so many mignons in this town!’ he replied, laughing.

There was a staged romantic moment, ‘This is the time when I pick out a young girl at random’, and he did, made her sit in a chair and sang her a quiet song called 'Walkin' Man', but very soon it was back to normal with this blasting-the-ceiling-off blues, this clapping and even this sing-along on ‘It’s a long, long way’ which had a Willie Nelson-country flair; the show was just interrupted by some pulls from a wine bottle he was sipping from the beginning of the show.

He continued for a long time, and as some of his songs had already received applause three or four times, he was restarting for another round, exhilarating the crowd. SeaSick Steve is a happy man.

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