The Italian Shoes, I mean blues of MORBLUS

 

MORBLUS in Banana Peel Jazz & Bluesclub at Ruiselede, Belgium, Monday October 27th 2008.

 

Within the European blues scene (the Euroblues?) Italy occupies a prominent spot. The boot of southern Europe has, however, a reputation for producing loudly playing bands that do not shun the dB’s one bit…nor byte. Rudy Rotta is one of the better of these blues rockers. There are notable exceptions. When in the spring of 2006 ,,funky blues band’’ Morblus presented itself for the first time in the famous Banana Peel (BP) they were reputed to be somewhat different from your average Italo-blues band, but you can’t win ‘m all and we had to cancel the rendez-vous. Then afterwards, obviously, we had to endure the stream of praises that befell the band after their Ruiselede concert, for they had left a huge impression, especially the guitar player. Simply a phenomenon. Now that the southern Europeans were here again, it was inevitably time to take measure of their capacities.

 

We won’t keep you waiting: the quartet of Morblus gave an absolute rave concert in a packed and fully laden Banana Peel. These last two seasons the rather small venue is very often at the maximum of its capacity, probably through the varied and skilful programming. There are conspiciously many people from the north of France and the Netherlands, which is a clear indication of the still growing popularity of the club (after more than forty years of uninterrupted blues acitivity) And of the popularity of this particular band: Morblus attracted a lot of Dutchmen, as the band has acquired a solid reputation over there and has built up a large and faithful following.

 

The Morblus formula is simple: you take a series of blues classics, write a number of songs in that same broad variety of styles (soul and funk are also poured lavishly into the melting pot) You give that mix a lively, exuberant execution (without cooking it through til it becomes steel hard rockblues, that is) and you keep on playing until everyone’s flat out on the floor, knocked out but with a broad smile on the face. Make sure you stay honest with and faithful to yourself, your audience ànd the blues. It’s in fact not because your form of blues is essentially for amusement purposes, that it lacks feeling of is less rootsy. Stilistic hair splitting (something we admit to have done so in the past, and more than once…and still…) has to make way for the healing value of an evening of fun blues. Nothing wrong with that. Or do you believe that those old blues geezers at the banks of the Mississippi didn’t want to amuse themselves and others in the first place, without considering if in later times people would find this to be ,,authentic’’ enough?

 

Something like that Roberto Morbioli from the outskirts of Verona in northern Italy must have had in mind when, in 1991, he decided to form Morblus… What you need then is of course people able to work out the master plan. In keyboards wizzard Daniele ‘Marugola’ Scala he found the ideal partner: his stilistically consequent work on piano, organ and especially the cosily humming hammond gives Morblus a typical sound, combined with the guitar playing by Morbioli. He and Scala form the black soul of the combo since the very start. A no nonsense rhythm section can also work wonders, by giving it all a sound understructure. This is delivered by the bass of Alex Carreri, who’s not afraid of a slappin’ bass solo, and by the metronomical beats of Marco Sacchitella… ‘although in Ruiselede Lele Zamperini seemed to have taken his place) They are the beating heart of Morblus.

 

Morbioli might not be the most refined of the blues guitarists, but he isn’t a lumberjack either.  He has instead a lot going for him: a pleasing sound you never get tired of, a very wide ranging technical ability, the capacity to keep on varying on a theme (seldom heard such extensive solo’s that keep full tension and renew themselves all the time) Add to this a rough and tumbling bluesy voice and an almost iron will and determination to go on and on, and to knock ‘m dead, as they say. You can rightfully call it an athletic accomplishment, as Roberto runs himself into a sweat quickly and doesn’t stop until the note is squeezed out of his axe. On Monday no less than three times he went around the crowded house while playing the guitar, under the road flirting with all the ladies in the room. Well, it’s associated with Italians anyway.

 

The band in the first part mainly focussed on the classics, the likes of Nobody Loves You When You’re Down And Out, Got My Mojo Working by Preston Foster (but for all eternity linked with Muddy Waters), Ain’t Nobody’s Business (If I Do) by Jimmy Witherspoon, one of the very few slower tunes of the evening. There were also self written songs as the splendid Pappy’s Words, to be found on I Can’t Go Wrong, CD from 2007, exclusively with their own work. During Start It Up Morbioli begins his first odyddea though the venue. No prize for originality, but who cares? Fact is that Roberto hits the jackpot each time he wanders ‘round. All attention concentrates on him and it isn’t boring one little bit.

 

After the intermission the boys ostendibly speed up. They have reserved, if not the best, then surely the most infectious material for now. They kick off with a straightforwardly funky Gotta Play My Blues, underlined by the hammond, followed by the soulful and funk based Satisfaction Guaranteed. Tempo cranks up, but it all stays quite melodic, while funk, soul, jive, shuffle, boogie, swamp and second line build up a party for the senses. I Play My Blues For You by Albert ‘The Velvet Bulldozer’ King halfway through the set is smack dab in the middle. It marks also a short return to the southern blues, as if they want us not to forget where the music stems from since it spread over the four corners of the world.

 

At the end of this song Roberto invites the ladies, or at least one lady in the audience to come help him out on the tiny stage of BP. But despite all the begging by this charming man these austere northern girls are not to be convinced. Finally a long time fan, the Dutch Jacqueline, joins in on stage . ,,I wanna get down, I wanna get funky’’ Roberto is crooning. One likes to think this will never end but it’s nearly eleven when the plug goes out of this steam roller. The club has to take into account The Abominable Neighbour of the BP, the one who sends the colleagues of the NYPD to the place with complaints of noise nuisance, as soon as it’s past eleven o’clock PM. The man who rightfully exerts his democratic rights lives a whole lot further on, but that’s a minor detail.

 

Roberto gives the impression to be exhausted, but he doesn’t get a chance to catch his breath: organiser Franky ‘Funky’ Van de Ginste asks him for just one encore. The tireless band gives him three, actually four extra’s. Purple Rain is on Morblus’ repertoire for ages. With this masterly tune Prince Roger Nelson has also had his great blues climax. Then Boom Boom, with a stirring ZZ Top riff, that ignites the audience even more. This riff must truly be the most exciting in the history of music. A kind of end tune, a short jive instrumental (the kind Duke Robillard likes to play nowadays) swithes over into the closing The Blues Is Alright, a manifesto that being put into action immediately. It’s so hard to resist his smile: on Roberto’s command the house rises and the finale is a complete and utterly wild fiësta.

 

With its diversity and many covers Morblus has something of a jukebox, but then one exclusively with top singles in original execution. No wonder this band played in the legendary B.B. King Blues Club on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee! You can relive a concert like this, as, after a few live CD’s, Morblus has just released its first DVD Road Tracks. Morblus Live! And to make everyone happy, certainly the ones who missed it, also this time: now already a new Benelux tour is scheduled, taking place between April 29th and May 17th 2009, venues to be announced! We can only hope there will be further Belgian gigs during that period…

 

Antoine Légat (Original October 29th; this translation October 30th 2008)

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