Those Pesky Teskeys are back...
I saw the Teskeys last year, at a sold-out Tuning Fork in Auckland, and was mightily impressed. Ageless and timeless soul and blues delivered through the whiskey infusion which must surely line Josh Teskey’s throat.
And here they are back again, but this time filling the Powerstation, not once but twice, with an enthusiastic following which spans all adult generations.
We know where the Teskeys have been, growing up in suburban Melbourne listening to their parent’s records, and practising perfect over several years. My guess is about 10,000 hours practice over ten years, which research tells us now defines what uninformed admirers might call gifted. You don’t get to expert without hard yards and hard work. So yes, we know where they have come from, but my question now becomes, where are they going to?
Before beginning to try and answer that, we are mightily entertained as a starter by Melbourne rock-chic Harmony Byrne and her band. Harmony grew up in a large family of faith in Melbourne and sang a lot in church as a youngster. She has left her religion, but not her church, if you listen to the tinges of gospel which creep into the essentially psych folk-rock sound which emerges as the set unravels.
At the outset, it sounds like we have Courtney Barnett’s sister in the room. Then Patti Smith continues the journey. Jeff Buckley makes an appearance on lead guitar, and Janis appears in the long, some might say overindulgent vocal gymnastic passages. If I’m sounding picky, it’s because it’s so damn good, and my only real criticism is that that aforementioned indulgence might have come at the expense of appeal, especially to a new audience. People started looking at their phones when the music slowed down, and she tried the Janis, but without the Joplin.
But it also must be said that support acts do not often come so powerful, and the Teskeys love her, which also speaks to their confidence that even Harmony’s talent will not upstage them. A new album is imminent, and I’ll be a buyer. Look out for Harmony Byrne.
Drummer Chris Windley, who looks uncannily like Radio 13’s Simon William Todd, gave the Bad Monkey and me a heads up when he was here last August, drumming for Skyscraper Stan. He’s not wrong...
The Teskey Brothers comprise singer Josh and brother Sam on guitar and backing vocals, along with Liam Gough on drums and Brendon Love on bass and keys. On tour with them are album contributors Nathaniel Sametz, and a lady in red on trumpet, who also has a name, Charlie Woods.
Josh leads the band on, with a shit-eating grin that knows he’s amongst friends, and off we go, on a 13-song set which features songs from both the first album, Half Mile Harvest (deluxe edition, damn it, which is why a couple of the songs are new to me) and the new sophomore, Run Home Slow which won 3 ARIA Awards in 2019 for Best Group, Best Blues and Roots Album and Engineer of the Year (Sam Teskey).
I defy anyone not to like these guys, and that is down to two things: firstly, their music is timeless and ageless... because it is unashamedly derived from the great 60s and 70s Americana heartland of soul with an undercurrent of blues. Secondly, Josh Teskey is blessed with Sam Cooke’s vocal cords, plus a taste of Otis Redding, and more than a sprinkling of Tennessee whiskey, no ice, straight up, smokey. Taste the dirt in his voice.
So when you adopt or inherit or shamelessly imitate that rich legacy of soul and you sound like you invented it, you are in a territory which brings its just reward of uncritical audience rapture.
And that creates a little problem in my mind, which won’t wash away, no matter how many beers I try, where do these guys go?
The first seed of doubt occurs when I try and compare this year’s gig, in the bigger, bolder Powerstation, to the more intimate Tuning Fork. It’s starting to move away from silky to slick, I reckon, and my most cynical self might imagine them as a classic house band in Vegas. Slap yourself hard, Roger, right in the face... for a thought so heretical, and get back to the music, get lost in the music, stop having any kind of thoughts, it’s bad for your health...
But the problem is that Josh is not Nathaniel, and so the Teskeys don’t have that kind of rotund punk attitude and strut which characterises Rateliff & the Night Sweats. Very similar sound, but Nathaniel has got something extra, something different, something funky, something Sly. Josh is just nice.
But then I settle, at least my thoughts, but not my feet, as something happens halfway through the set. It’s not the vaudeville, jazzy Sunshine Baby, which sees the band heading off to New Orleans, but the song before that, which starts off acoustic, harmonies, builds, and all of a sudden leaves San Francisco and heads to the deep Allman Brothers south, and the band cut loose, and hey presto we have good old southern boogie to cleanse our soul and take our blues away. And now The Teskey Brothers are saying something different, heading in another direction, to southern rock, somewhere Nathaniel doesn’t take his Night Sweats.
And so I am very much relieved, and happy for the band. There’s no need for widespread panic...
Or maybe there is. Widespread Panic is a hell of a band, and they must be getting on, so maybe there is a need for another one...
The Teskey Brother's Auckland setlist:
- Let Me Let You Down
- Crying Shame
- Say You’ll do
- I Get Up
- San Francisco
- Sunshine Baby
- So Caught Up
- Paint my Heart
- Right For Me
- Hold Me (encore)