Live Review

Diesel live at The Tivoli

- Anyone who grew up in Australia in the early 1990s will fondly recall weekend mornings spent
watching either ABC’s Rage or Channel 10’s Video Hits; or, like me, alternating between the two.
Whilst Rage wore its -not always deserved- underground reputation as a badge of honour and
Video Hits was more preoccupied with the pop mega-stars of the moment, some acts featured
heavily on both and Diesel was one such artist. Thanks to a one-two punch of top-ten singles, Tip
Of My Tongue
and Never Miss Your Water, Diesel -known as Mark Lizotte to his family- was all
over Australian radio and music television for the first half of the nineties.

This kind of early success can both make and break a musician, setting an early benchmark that is
impossible to maintain and hard to live up to. Many obsess over past glories and fret over every
sales figure and review, whilst others, the “lifers” just get on with the job and do what they do best.
Diesel is a “lifer” in the truest sense of the word, an individual who has dedicated himself to his
craft and forged his own path regardless of fads, trends or industry hype.

Although he is primarily known as a bluesman, Diesel’s sixteen-strong discography also contains
albums inflected with hard-rock, country, Americana and mellow, almost folkish, acoustic moments.
Not afraid to showcase his influences, Diesel regularly covers the work of other musicians, from
the obvious: John Lee Hooker, Mississippi John Hurt and Jimmy Webb, to the less so: Neil
Young, Joni Mitchell
& Bob Dylan. These renditions allow his fans to gain a better understanding
of his sonic makeup and further highlight his privileged position of being able to chart his own
musical course; a journey his many fans appear more than happy to accompany him on.

Performing to a packed house at Brisbane’s Tivoli Theatre, Diesel performed solo, across two
sets with a short interval in between. Set one featured a mix of covers and originals, primarily
culled from his two most recent records, Alone With Blues and Bootleg Melancholy, whilst set two
contained a selection of his greatest hits. I was pleasantly surprised at how many songs -aside
from the previously mentioned hits- that I not only knew, but knew well, proving that Diesel is far
more than a one, or two-hit wonder.

In terms of crowd favourites, Soul Revival, Tip Of My Tongue and Cry In Shame received the
biggest response, with the latter being used to close the night. It needs noting, however, that the
audience response to almost every track was enthusiastic, and at times, bordering on the
rapturous. Lapping up the attention, Diesel peppered his sets with anecdotes about his songs and
musical history and particularly the influence his parents had, via their record collection, on his
development as a musician. These small snippets of personal history were particularly interesting
to someone such as myself, who knew very little about Diesel the person, allowing me to form a
more well-rounded image of the man as an artist and music fan.

It was two covers, however, that, for me at least, proved the high point of the night. Willie Dixon’s
Spoonful and Leadbelly’s Where Did You Sleep Last Night?, both stone-cold blues classics.
Spoonful is more famously known through Howlin’ Wolf’s slide guitar version and it was this
rendition that Diesel paid tribute to tonight; tearing up his small acoustic guitar whilst
simultaneously hitting and knocking it to produce a percussive effect. His rendition of Where Did
You Sleep Last Night?
may be no match for Kurt Cobain’s, however Diesel tackled the famous
convict-cum-bluesman Leadbelly’s grim depiction of jealousy and murder in earnest with a passion
impossible to ignore.

Over two hours Diesel proved himself a powerful and engaging performer, aware of his strengths
and sensitive to to the needs of his audience, who, from start to finish, eagerly lapped up each riff,
note and chord. Apart from the brief interval, Diesel stopped only to draw from his large arsenal of
incredible sounding six and twelve-string guitars and, occasionally, a double bass; wringing from
these instruments all the emotion one expects from a devoted student of the blues masters.

Blues as a genre is rooted in history and tradition, but anyone who thinks that blues music is the
domain of the (mostly male) pale, obsessive collector types, famously portrayed by Steve
in Ghost World, needs to attend a Diesel show. There they will see a crowd of all types,
diverse ages, genders and backgrounds, unified through a shared love of music; held hostage by
the power of one man and his guitar.

Nick Stephan


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