It might seem an odd thing to say that an evening with a blues band can be a joyous occasion. But so it was at Auckland’s Mercury Theatre on Saturday October 6. The Teskey Brothers performed with touch, skill, and heart, and with a passion to share their music. I fancy no one left disappointed.
They play blues, but very much blues wrapped in soul, with a two piece horn section fleshing out the band’s drums, bass and two guitars. Sometimes it felt like Motown, sometimes like Van Morrison, while one concert goer beside me suggested Sam Cooke. Maybe The Teskey Brothers have dipped into all those – and other – influences, but they perform with a strong sense of their own musical identity, formed from years playing live in their home state of Victoria. Lead vocalist and rhythm guitarist Josh Teskey, 30, has a warm and raspy voice. You can hear the number of nights he’s sang in pubs and bars and clubs. It’s well worn, but his obvious love of what he’s doing means it never felt jaded or cynical. Like the rest of the band, he seemed to be living in the moment. Josh told us that up until very recently the band had played all their music within Victoria, and you got a strong sense that it was a revelation to the band to see just how well received it was in the wider world.
Josh’s brother Sam is on lead guitar, and brought superb touch. He’s not into mesmerising you with a cavalcade of notes, but seems to know how a pause can tell as much of a story as a note. More than a few times my mind went to B.B.King. I know, you’ll say that’s a huge call, but that’s how it felt to me.
Bass player Brendan Love and drummer Liam Gough are also superb, and together with Charlie Woods on trumpet and Nathaniel Sametz on trombone, they can crank up the pace and the volume, and dial it right back to a whisper. Frontman Josh Teskey is a generous bloke, telling the audience who in the band wrote which song, and stepping back to concede the limelight to a solo from the drums or horns.
They played almost all original material, a mix of songs from their 2017 album Half Moon Harvest, like Crying Shame, Reason Why, the epic (13 minute) Honeymoon, a couple of older numbers like 2012’s Angel Eye, and new material, like I Get Up and Say You’ll Do. A surprise – and a very good one – was a cover of Black Sabbath’s War Pigs, with the horns playing the lead guitar break of the original.
For all the sweet skills and deft touch exhibited by The Teskey Brothers, what really made the evening so enjoyable for the audience was that it was obviously enjoyable for the musical artists. You’d say this about all music and indeed about all performance art, but it seems to be even more vital when we’re talking about the blues. This is music steeped in the pain and hard times of life, yet somehow it is shared with us so that we are not bowed by those hard times but understand we share them with all those around us. Blues and soul has been around for many years now, and for someone of my generation it’s generally associated with older black artists from America. To see young men and women from our part of the world taking this music and keeping it vital, both surprised and delighted me. I sat and absorbed this concert with a smile on my face.
And a note on the opening act, local band The Bads. They’re a four piece who played a short set of original songs, most of them with a country rock/folk feel. They write neat catchy melodies and were well received. Worth keeping an eye on.