Ash Grunwald – Back Beat Bar (Concert Review)

When you’re a blues singer you pretty much have two options when you start a song, either, “woke up this mornin’” or, “well, well, well”. Australian blues man Ash Grunwald opted for the latter as he began his set at Auckland’s Back Beat Bar. The attending crowd was small, but they were treated to a big show.

It was just before 10PM when Ash Grunwald clambered on to the stool on stage at Back Beat, guitar in hand, and foot pedals at the ready. A small group of fans had ventured out into the Auckland rain to see one of Australia’s finest blues musicians in this intimate setting.

“Thank you, everybody…and I mean a small number of everybody”, he said smiling.

At that point Grunwald decided to abandon his planned set, explaining that often, at blues shows, they have what’s called a “lock-in” after the gig, in which fans and musicians hang out, drink and jam…locking the doors of the club to keep the riff raff out and everyone else in. For tonight he declared, “We should have a lock-in at the start of the gig…we’ll just hang out”.

And that’s exactly what went down.

He then offered up…”Any requests, just let me know”, and immediately an audience member shouted out, “Catfish”. After asking him to repeat the song title, due to a bit of confusion between Aussie and Kiwi accents, Grunwald paused for a second, then launched straightaway into the Hendrix blues tune.

It was that kind of night.

After performing his own song, Skywriter, Ash invited the two musician who had warmed up the crowd back on stage. They are Kriston Batistich and Meghan Glue, of an outfit called Ratsmagic. Ash had trouble remembering their names as he called them up, but they all got to know each other very well, musically over the next 45 minutes or so.

Kriston plays acoustic guitar and Meghan, violin, and they both sing. Grunwald suggested that they start with the old Howlin’ Wolf classic, Smokestack Lightnin’.

Ash kicked off the tune and the two others gamely attempted to join in. This had obviously not been rehearsed, and the three musicians took some time to find the groove, but they finally did and from then on, they rocked.

“This is going to be a jam”, Grunwald decided after their first song together, and then began singing Bill Withers’ Ain’t No Sunshine. Again, Kriston and Meghan joined in tentatively, but soon found their place in the song, with all 40 or 50 patrons singing along as well.

And so it went. Grunwald mixed old favourites like John The Revelator and even Gnarls Barkley’s Crazy, with his own tunes like Mojo and Trouble’s Door. Ash played his guitar with gusto, tossing off dirty, distorted blues licks, while simultaneously providing a rhythm track with his foot pedals. Meanwhile Kriston and Meghan joined in gamely.

Eventually, the two local musicians left the stage and Grunwald carried on on his own. By now it was clear that he was having a good time, knocking back glasses of tequila provided by audience members and engaging in banter with anyone who cared to shout out. By the end of the two hour set, we were all friends and it was clear that, despite the disappointing turnout, Ash Grunwald turned, what could have been a rather dire situation into a clear victory, with everyone reluctant to leave as the clock struck midnight.

Marty Duda

Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Ivan Karczewski:

Ash Grunwald set list (approximate):

  1. Catfish
  2. Skywriter
  3. Smokestack Lightnin’
  4. Ain’t No Sunshine
  5. You Tell Me That I’m Drinking Too Much
  6. Mojo
  7. While Its Late
  8. Money And Fancy Clothes/Change Is Gonna Come
  9. John The Revelator
  10. Trouble’s Door
  11. The Sky Began To Fall
  12. Crazy
  13. Second Guess
  14. Foxy Lady
  15. Break Out
  16. Your Mama Said So
  17. Dolphin Song
  18. Serious
  19. Medley
  20. The Worst Crimes Are Legal