The Big Kahuna | Review
Eastside Arts Festival • Sunday 21 August ’16
Gerard Walton • Photography: Gerry McNally
The EastSide Arts Festival was brought to a rousing close on it’s 12th night on Sunday as The Big Kahuna Band treated us to a diverse selection of classics at the Park Avenue Hotel. This was no tired cover band going through the motions. This was a tight and, more importantly, talented group of musicians, who have been together since 1998.
Specialising in weddings, The Big Kahuna will have played to bigger crowds in their time, but lead singer Robin Martin saw the funny side, kicking off with a wry “Good evening, Wembley Stadium.”
The rain may have kept many people at home in front of the fire, but those who turned out would have left delighted. There were plenty of EastSide volunteers in the crowd, many of whom were busting some well earned moves by the end of the night in celebration of a roaring success of a festival.
An early example of the onstage talent on show was a full band version of Green Day’s ‘Good Riddance’, reworked into a galloping country rock delight.
Another brilliant tune followed, with Van Morrison’s ‘Into The Mystic’ getting a faithful rendition. This would have had a special resonance for The Big Kahuna, as they supported Van the Man in the Harp Bar on New Year’s Eve in 2013.
They are a cut above most cover bands, in that they possess a top notch trumpet-and-saxophone brass section. This really got a chance to shine when the set delved into the more funk-driven numbers, such as ‘Soul Man’, ‘Superstition’ and ’Lovely Day.’ They even made Michael Jackson’s ‘Billie Jean’ their own with some show-stopping trumpet squalls.
It wasn’t all up-tempo good times. ‘I’m On Fire’ from the Bruce Springsteen back catalogue retained all of its downcast unease, and was all the better for it. It also wasn’t entirely crusty old classics. A delightful Bruno Mars duo of songs, ‘Just The Way You Are’ and ‘Uptown Funk’ kept proceedings modern, with ‘I’m Yours’ by Jason Mraz also showcasing The Big Kahuna’s ability to slow the tempos down.
Stealer’s Wheel’s ‘Stuck In The Middle With You’ even came with a relevant back story for the band. Back in The Big Kahuna’s early days, their then-manager Tony had apparently confessed that he had written this hit song while bassist for Stealer’s Wheel, but never signed the credits. Whatever the origins, this version was a worthy one.
In many ways, ‘Pencil Full Of Lead’ was the highlight of the set. Robin introduced it by claiming the band was going to show off a bit. An empty boast this was not. Bass, brass, guitar and drum solos were abound for this number.
The likes of Bryan Ferry’s ‘Let’s Stick Together’ got the crowd very much on their feet. There may have been no wedding taking place, but romance was most definitely in the air on the dance floor! For country fans, penultimate jam ‘Take It Easy’ was a breezy delight, and ‘Rolling On The River’ was one final floor-filler to end the night.
Two hours on the dot of high-energy fun was a fitting end to a successful festival, and The Big Kahuna certainly showed why they are one of Northern Ireland’s most in-demand wedding and function bands.
Every cover showcased their abilities, be it a subtle added flourish for extra texture or the musical equivalent of a strut. Add that to their great audience rapport, with plenty of participation encouraged, and they can only be highly recommended.