Concert Review in Deutsche Mugge (Germany)

Delta Moon in Berlin

By Torsten Meyer
Photos: Torsten Meyer, press material (top)

What is one to hope from a concert of a band called DELTA MOON from the state of Georgia in the United States? Probably decent delta blues, with aproper spoonful of swamp or southern rock, definitely something reminiscent of theband’s southern origin. Well, these hopes werefully met last night in the Maschinenhaus, because DELTA MOON offered a superbmix of exactly theseelements.

In 2010 the band hit Berlin for the first time. At that time it was rather a chance that gave Tom Gray and his men their entrance in the GARBÁTY. I wasnot there myself, but if you believe the eyewitness accounts, it was a memorable, legendary night because DELTA MOON rockedthe house like no one before.
My personal live premiere of the quartet from Atlanta, Georgia, was almostto the day a year ago, when they played exactly as yesterday in the Maschinenhaus, one of three concert venues onthe site of the Kulturbrauerei. It was such a fantastic evening on April 4, 2012, that an unconditional repetition was even then a done deal for me.
As so often in Berlin this weekend there were more shows than you could visit. In the Kulturbrauerei on Friday two wonderful events under the same roof threatened to steal the visitors from each other. In the Kesselhaus was JAN PLEWKA with his RIO TRAVEL program, while upstairs DELTA MOON awaited the acclaim of ordinary visitors. What I decided you know.
With this decision, I was fortunately not alone. It was revealed that the band enjoys increasing popularity, and thus are beyond the status of an insider tip. In addition to my German colleagues Thorsten Mugge and Wieland who, as I, appreciate terrific live music, I discovered WALDI WEIZ and MATZE STOLPE, two musicians from our German blues scene, among the cheerful and joyful expectant spectators.

At the heart of the band are the two guitarists, Tom Gray and Mark Johnson. How the two friends got to know each other is a funny story. A few years ago in the parking lot of a music shop Tom Gray wanted to sell Mark a Dobro guitar. Mark did not buy the guitar, but phone numbers got exchanged, and the two began making music together. That’s how it started, and what it has become we saw and heard yesterday evening. The origin of the band name is also worth mentioning. When Tom and Mark one day returned from a trip to MUDDY WATERS’ shack in Clarksdale, in the Mississippi Delta, they were so under the impression of the experience that Mark said DELTA MOON would be a very nice name for their band. So then it was. This village of Clarksdale with just 20,000 residents, by the way, offers a lot of room for stories about the blues, because from here and from the surrounding area came unforgettable musicians like JOHN LEE HOOKER, MUDDY WATERS or SAM COOKE. There is so much more to tell about Clarksdale, but there is no section for this type of report in Deutsche Mugge.
Now it is in itself nothing unusual for a band to have two guitarists in the line-up. The special feature of DELTA MOON however is that they both play slide guitar. Surely that is much less common. Supported by bassman Franher Joseph and Darren Stanley on drums, they formed a unit that was from the outset a lot of fun and gained much approval from the audience. That is not always easy because Berlin concertgoers have to be won over first. For DELTA MOON, no problem. Even as the “Midnight Train” arrived shortly after eight o’clock, it spilled over this incomparable southern feeling and had the crowd cheering in front of the stage and falling into rhythmic twitches. Over the next two and a half hours, nothing changed. At most the intensity increased.

Two equal slide guitars leading the sound — that calls for sophisticated arrangements. I do not know how they managed that, but it succeeded excellently. While Mark Johnson favored the classical bottleneck technique and executed it to perfection (which also MATZE STOLPE appreciatively noted), his colleague Tom Gray preferred to play the guitar in the lap-steel style, which sometimes seemed a little daring. The guitar lay on his thighs with the strings up. Gray did not put his hand around the guitar neck, but over the neck, the slide not over a finger as usual, but somehow wedged firmly between thumb and forefinger. The strings were plucked with the help of small claws [fingerpicks], which were pushed by the ring finger. As I said, it seemed bold. But the sound captivated, fascinated and aroused enthusiasm. It felt downright like tramping through a greasy Mississippi swamp. A perfect fit to Tom Gray’s rough, slightly hoarse voice, which created an atmosphere in harmony with the music. Talk of old-time ZZ Top, when they still indulged in the blues, raised wistful memories. In short, exactly as Southern music should sound! Slightly dirty, rough, impulsive and boiling with sweat. For the necessary groove Franher Joseph, a native of Haiti, pulled his four-string bass with the typical Caribbean laid-back cool, and drummer Darren Stanley played with enormous force. The latter impressed in the middle with a short but intense drum solo, which the audience quite rightly rewarded with a big ovation.
It was delightful as Tom Gray and Mark Johnson repeatedly played slide solos.Both are absolute masters of their craft. Even though they are so professional, they nonetheless noticeably found fun and joy in what theydid there. Oftenthe audience was carried awaywith spontaneous applause for solo performances, which the musicians acknowledged with a satisfiedsmile. The highlight of this for me wasthe theme song of their 2004 album Going Down South.
The number was suitable because of its funky rhythm,perfect to serve as a playground for extended solos and jamming. That’s exactly what happened and culminated when Gray and Johnson suddenly sat down side by side on the edge of the stage, and the song stretchedout in a minutes-long slide duel. It was as if the two guitars were talking together in a very intimate way. Simply gorgeous. Tightly surroundedby enthusiastic fans, these moments generated a real goosebumps atmosphere.But otherwise the successful song selection ensured a consistently high entertainment value.It was nice to experience not onlycurrent material, but also some older numbers,such as the beautifulforwardmarching “ShakeEm On Down” from the debut album Delta Moon (2002), That’s it” from 2004, or “Jessie Mae“, “Blind Spot” and some other early works of the Southern blues-rockers, although, of course, most of the titlescame from the last two albums, Hellbound Train and Black Cat Oil. Here I particularly liked the swampy Hellbound Train” with its immense groove and “Black Coffee”, which shook right down to the ground. Most of the songs were works of their own, of course, but they did perform a few covers, especially one that’s been played probably a thousand times, the age-old You Got to Move” from veteran MISSISSIPPI FRED McDOWELL. There are numbers that you can strum still another hundred years without wearing them out You Got to Move” is that way for me.
Anyone who had ever before attended a DELTA MOON concert was probably just as delighted as I with the last song of the evening. Band and fans (which everyone in the hall had now become) hadreached a superb moodlevel, so it was easy for singer Tom Gray to leadthe audience to sing along to the repeating all night long” choruses. Meanwhilethe musicians dismantled Darren‘s drum kit, but of course that did notstop them from further drumming. As each of the musicians held his own drum part in hand, they walked off the stage Polonaise-style all the way through the crowd, playing percussion and continuously singing together with everyone present, All night long.”
Loud cheers accompanied the men when they returned to the stage and rang ​​thefinal chord of a thoroughly grandconcert. Immediately following their exit from the stage Tom Gray, Mark Johnson, Darren Stanley and Joseph Franherappeared at the merchandise booth and chatted with visitors, sold and signed their CDs and T-shirtsand thus ensureda perfect ending to a really great evening.

On the way home I thought – for whatever reason – to the people who watch the Saturday evening mess with the Pop Titan and hiscasting puppets, andmay even makeRTL and Telekom rich through their calls,I can say only one thing: people go out, visitingthe many small music clubs around Berlin. Becausehonest, handmade live music for all tastes is available for little money.These musicians deserve to have you watch them, andthey thank you for it with power. Last nightin the Maschinenhaus it was again exactly thisexperience. An incredible concert by a fantastic band that will surely have a full house for their next show in Berlin. In addition, anyone whohas a little something left for blues and itsmany varieties shouldalways check out the GARBÁTY concerts. The schedule for the coming months fills me with tremendous anticipation for expected concerts.

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