Beneath the gaze of a shimmering moon, in the shadow of the tower that guards the cross placed in the ground by Spanish Conquistadores and after which the city of Santa Cruz is named, on Thursday night it was the turn of the Irish to conquer the city.
We arrived at the top of the Noria district on a hot and sultry night to a crowd of a couple of hundred people milling around the small park beneath the spreading boughs of the flame of the forest trees.
Leaving Jack to find pole position for his photography, Jesús and I headed off to JC Murphy’s to get the beers in.
It was the start of the Santa Blues Festival and a young Irish band called The Deans were scheduled to open the festival. I’d read reviews and listened to the discography on their website and was pretty certain we were in for a treat.
The usual chaos and inefficiency reigned at the bar of JCs which, combined with Jesús’ “it’s okay, Man, it’ll happen when it’s supposed to” hippy drippy attitude to getting served, meant that by the time we got back to Jack, the 3 lads from Galway were already on stage and the audience had swelled and shuffled quietly closer to the action.
I knew the guys were young but I wasn’t quite prepared for the baby-faced, hat toting, Arlo Guthrie looking youngster with his long frizzy black hair, orange shirt with green neck scarf and sash and his suede jacket, who pulled his guitar strap over his shoulder, smiled at his handsome bro’ on bass and ripped into the opening chords of what was to be a heart stopping, incendiary performance.
With all the professionalism of seasoned circuit-tourers and the freshness of first timers, Gavin (Arlo Guthrie) Dean, his bassist brother Gary and drummer Gary Keown took Santa Cruz by storm.
From classic blues rock numbers to songs off their new album ‘The Album‘ (couldn’t think of a name, eh, lads?) including ‘Snakes and Ladders’ and the anthem ‘Carnival Blues’, The Deans reminded us what great performances are all about; the sheer joy of the music shone from their faces and carried them on a wave of euphoria that surfed us all along in its wake.
From the opening ‘Whoa!” to the impromptu leaping onto a stack system by Gavin (much to the annoyance of a roadie who really should get a job in the Inland Revenue) and whipping the audience up into a frenzy, The Deans were breathtakingly sensational.
“We’d play all night if they let us!” Gavin screamed into the mike, and you just knew he wasn’t kidding.
Suitable elated and feeling even hotter from the closeness of the now considerably larger crowd that The Deans had gathered it was time for my hippy friend and me to negotiate the frustration that is getting served at JC Murphy’s.
Even as we turned our backs on the stage and began pressing through the crowd, the Vargas Blues Band were already on stage and tuning up.
Time was of the essence.
Luckily it was my round so there wasn’t going to be any nonsense about waiting for the vibes to work in our favour.
One look at the six-deep throng around JC’s bar and I turned on my heels and headed up Santo Domingo to a chic restaurant, through their doors and straight to the bar area. In two shakes of a lamb’s tail we were slopping lager all over feet on our way back to Jack and the distant dream of our places at the front of the stage.
Looking like The Deans’ granddads, the Vargas Blues Band exuded experience and professionalism. On lead guitar Javier Vargas wouldn’t have looked out of place in Glastonbury this weekend playing with the E Street Band. His Mark Knopfler fretwork sang through the hot night air while he coolly moved only his fingers and his jaw bone, never breaking a sweat and letting his guitar do all the work. On vocals Tim Mitchell was two world class vocalists in one; Al Green and Barry White and both sat comfortably side by side. I have never heard such a range sung so sweetly; the guy went from tenor to baritone like flicking a switch. At one point he sang a duet with himself and you’d swear if you weren’t watching it with your own eyes that there were two different people on stage.
Through classic Blues rock, the occasional venture into Hendrix and a brief rendition of La Cucaracha, the Vargas Blues Band gave a flawless and soulful performance.
But for me, the night belonged to the Irish.
What do you think, Jesús? Oh, he’s not here, he’s still waiting at JC’s bar for the right Karma to come round.