Wes Mackey's performance in Leverkusen,
By Vince Abate
Wes Mackey¹s appearance on one of Germany¹s smallest blues stages was refreshingly old-school. With hotshot, flavor-of-the-week guitarists always passing through, it was good to finally attend a show where Hendrix was neither mentioned nor covered. Patrons who jammed the bar called ³topos² on this rainy Saturday night proved there¹s still an audience for electric blues in the traditions of Jimmy Reed, Muddy Waters, and John Lee Hooker. Mackey, who hails from South Carolina, now plies his trade in Vancouver, British Columbia, and was making his first foray into this region of Europe. He¹s been around long enough to have performed in his youth with Waters, Reed, and Hooker, and he name-checked each of them during a pair of one-hour sets.
Though he relied just as heavily on covers as those who pillage the Hendrix songbook, Mackey¹s trio managed to give the familiar postwar blues a fresh makeover. The evening began on an autobiographical note with the swinging ³Born in Carolina.²
His playing polished but not flashy, Mackey played seated and nimbly supplied his own steady rhythms on a set of bass pedals. He wore a cordless headset microphone in stark contrast to his pinstriped suit and porkpie hat. Saxophonist Stefan Meister displayed tasteful chops as drummer Andy Brugger ably held the beat. The trio carved a relentless groove as the attentive, boisterous crowd spurred them on. Prone to improvisation, Mackey¹s own boogie ³Who Do Da Voodoo² veered seamlessly into Hooker¹s ³Boom Boom.² Jimmy Reed¹s ghost was summoned on ³Baby What You Want Me To Do² and ³Bright Lights, Big City,² the latter riding a chunky two-note bass figure. Mackey¹s reading of Robert Cray¹s ³Right Next Door² wasn¹t as authoritative as his boogie version of Waters¹ ³Mannish Boy.² ³Mr. Blue,² his slow-blues original, was stripped-down and naked. Mackey¹s singing was mellow and sincere, and his ³no effects² approach to the guitar let his fingers do the talking. After two rousing encores, Mackey essentially had to beg the audience to let him leave the stage in order to partake of what he called his ³fun beer.² He¹d earned it.