It seemed as if it had been ages since I’d been to a really good gig…a girl could start to have withdrawal symptoms. So when I heard last month that Wonderboom and Johnny Clegg would be playing in Pietermaritzburg on the 17th April, I almost didn’t believe it. Colour me excited. Unsurprisingly, with that combination of artists, it wasn’t just a good gig, it was phenomenal.
Wonderboom just so happen to be one of my all time favourite bands, so it was actually the prospect of seeing them again that motivated me to make the trip to PMB. Since I last saw them in June 2009 (there’s those withdrawal symptoms!) they’ve had a line up change and virtually completed a new album. The introduction of Garth McLeod (Sugardrive and Martin Rocka & the Sick Shop) on drums has added a new dimension to this already fabulous band that just takes them to a whole new level of polished professionalism. There’s a reason why Wonderboom have stuck around for as long as they have in an industry notorious for break ups – their songs have an infectious appeal and their live performances are undoubtedly among the finest in the country. In fact, I’ve been lucky enough to see some top international bands perform and I would rate Wonderboom’s raw energy and ability to connect with their audience right up there with the best of them. Even the most lacklustre audience cannot help but sit up and pay attention to these boys, and are soon jumping around as if Red Bull had sponsored the event. The Woodburn Rugby Stadium was a great setting for them – Cito’s larger-than-life presence is perfect for big stages and the chemistry between all the band members is palpable in these situations as they feed off each other’s excitement. And as always, there is nothing quite like hearing them play Africa under our immense skies. A fitting ode to the man who would play after them as well. They played three of their new songs, and if these are anything to go by, their next offering The Automatic Shuffle, set to be released soon, is going to be one of their finest albums yet. I can’t wait. I have been to a lot of Wonderboom gigs over the years, and this was one of the best performances I have seen from them. Pure magic.
Next up was the man of the hour, if the number of people wearing Johnny Clegg-inspired leopard print vests was anything to go by (seriously people…don’t do it). Strangely enough, for all my love of South African music, I have never seen Johnny Clegg live. He definitely did not disappoint. For a man fast closing in on his sixties, Mr Clegg has certainly got what it takes on stage – he oozes energy and quiet charisma. Even the people who weren’t wearing animal print were just lapping it up. And I thought “Now this is what all the passport-clutchers and foreign media need to see…nation building at it’s finest!” The crowd was energised and the atmosphere, even from the spot we had retreated to at the back, was euphoric. Johnny Clegg kept the audience in the palm of his hand throughout (though we did run away to the bar for a bit – whoops) and was probably one of the chattiest artists I’ve ever seen on stage. Between his rich vocals and those of his backing singers, and the undeniable talents of his band, we were certainly treated to a truly African spectacle. And now that I’ve heard Great Heart live, I can tick that one off the bucket list. I think anyone who hasn’t seen this legend in action should definitely make a plan.
All in all, it was definitely a wonderful evening that made the trip up the hill more than worthwhile. I really have to take my figurative hat off to Impi Concept Events who arranged everything – this was their first live music event, and if I hadn’t known that I would never have guessed. The organisation was superb, the sound was right up there with the best I’ve heard and in general the whole concert went off without a hitch. Not as easy a feat as it may appear. The only nagging question I’m left with is what was up with all the girls in overalls and gumboots? Clearly a PMB fashion memo we did not receive!