MaryJane & The Gang

Live review from Girls with Guitars #11

Be Still
Song Of Joy
My Bliss
Ating Simulan
Third World Hunger Blues

The aforementioned headliners, Maryjane and the Gang take to the stage, with MJ cutting quite a figure with her leather miniskirt, huge hoop earrings and distinctively vintage-looking Gibson Marauder guitar.

Accompanied by bassist Alex Bacunawa, lead guitarist Simon Lee, drummer Carl Hollingsworth and Anthony Brophy guesting on sax, those who don’t quite know what to expect musically (including this reviewer), well, really didn’t know what to expect! But as soon as Maryjane, an experienced musical campaigner with a strong pedigree in performing covers and original tracks (this is an all-original set), hits her first note, we could tell we were in for an great hour of 50s and 60s style songs (kind of, as you’ll see). ‘Be Still’ has a great old-school, crooning feel to it, with a lovely, light vocal from MJ, taking us back to a golden age of songwriting. We’re away.

Before the following track, ‘Song Of Joy’ MJ asks if any of the musicians present has a capo. “Those who don’t know might think it sounds like some kind of contraception,” she jokes, drawing mystified looks from the crowd. Suitably installed (inserted?) on her guitar, she announces the song is in Filipino, and that there’s no direct translation for the title, but it’s something like, “when men look for creative ways to win a woman’s heart.” That’s called begging in my book, but MJ manages to turn it into three minutes of accomplished, polished country and western. Again, a real blast from the past. She’s got something of Shirley Bassey’s rich vibrato (the singer of the James Bond theme ‘Goldfinger’ kids, look it up, it’s great). Anthony provides superb soloing, as does Simon.

“We were described as ‘eclectic’ on the poster,” she says, introducing ‘My Bliss’. “I wanted this to sound grungy when I wrote it.” I don’t think any of us saw that coming. So is it grunge? Well, probably not as Kurt Cobain would understand the term, but it has a slightly harder edge. Grunge meets 70s ballad? Not sure, but it’s certainly a very cultured sound that really grows on you. Sax reappears trading licks with some fluent guitar playing, and MJ’s effortless scat singing to bring things to a lovely conclusion.

Track five ‘Paraparaan’ has a very different feel, with an almost funk-metal RHCP type intro, before gliding into more Tina Turner (RIP) style R&B with some seriously tasty guitar playing. It’s again in Filipino, with the musicality of the language working well with the melody. For ‘Ating Simulan’ there’s more of a tribal intro, with a darker vibe, fitting MJ’s imperative for us to “come together for Mother Nature” (at least that’s what I think she said). There’s plenty more of that superb guitar, this time with a Hendrix wah thing going on.

Next track ‘Third World Hunger Blues’ MJ announces she wrote with a friend back in the Philippines, and returns to a more timeless 50s/60s vibe. Syncopated toms kick things off, with a distinctive, almost yodelling style vocal. Super catchy, you can imagine this with big band backing, and just to further muddy the musical waters, it’s again got a bit of C&W influence, and Eddie Van Halen-esque soloing from the talented Simon. While this latter contribution doesn’t quite pull it into this century, it does give it a slightly more contemporary feel.

While we’re on the subject of the ‘C’ word, are Maryjane and the Gang just a little tame after the more contemporary rock and metal of the previous bands? Sure, but it also has undoubted charm, and the audience seemed to love it. An enjoyable and super fun show from an accomplished group of performers.
– Dan Creffield

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Performances by MaryJane & The Gang: