The Best Rock You’ve Never Heard of #3: The Wanton Bishops
When I was last in Lebanon back n 2013, I hit the recording studio with my cousin and, on the way, I asked if we could listen to Kordz, a local band I’d come to love on my previous visit. He said, “Sure, but there’s another up-and-coming band you should hear, The Wanton Bishops.” I thought, “cool” but then forgot about it and it was only when I got back to South Africa that I discovered that somebody had put some live recordings on my phone.
It wasn’t long before Johannesburg was treated to sexy harmonica riffs over raw guitars and rough voices blasting out of a Toyota RunX complimenting its free flow exhaust. I had thought that my noise pollution was the reason that they were brought down to South Africa in late 2014…but after I was the only one singing along in the crowd, I realised I hadn’t done a great job of bringing their music to South Africa. On the other hand, they did! Nader and Eddie have an incredible stage presence and it’s a shame that they only had two gigs while they were here but I went to the Park Acoustics set and it was such a jam.
Few there knew what Lebanon was, let alone who the Bishops were but after that set, all those people around came to me and asked, “I saw you knew the words to the songs, How have we never heard of this band?”…exactly my sentiments after missing the 2011 establishment of the band. This is the only non-South African band in this series to tour South Africa so they’re easily the most likely of the 10 bands I’m introducing our readers to, you might have heard of in this series…but they’re still out of the South African playlist meta so if you spent 2014 fishing or playing DOTA, you would have missed them.
Since then, they’ve been a permanent fixture in my DJ playlist at every braai, pool party and drag race as the new music that is so loveable, even those who live by the authority of 5fm will find this music acceptable long enough to fall in love with it.
So what do they sound like? What makes them special? They sound like the sounds of the south injected with fresh struggle with the strength to bring a social shift in an otherwise crushing environment…which, incidentally, is relatively apt. Lebanon’s rock culture is minimal and blues was really unheard of…until these dudes. It’s kinda weird because you’d expect rebellious and struggle music to come out of an over-conquered and war-fatigued Lebanon…after all, to paraphrase Nader, “Welcome to Lebanon…where you can smoke inside and drink outside!”
When I met them back in 2014, they were pretty damn dope and down to earth. Their session guitarist, Anthony, got really excited at the fact that we share the same name and we have fun holding our Lebanese ID cards next to each other (not that I can read the language) but the point is that they’re rockstars you can approach and have a drink with.
Others have noticed their potential and they’re on a worldwide rise including a trip through the blues states of the USA funded by Redbull TV which was fortunately documented, as a feature called Walk it Home, and a joy to watch. The Lebs have an uncanny ability to take their crafts exceptionally seriously, channel it through some form of spirituality, all the while still turning everything they do into a party…a lifestyle these okes have got down to an art.
The difficult thing about the blues is walking that line between cynicism and functionality and somehow balancing really feeling the music you’re playing without making it only about you and still having relevance to the audience. Of course the songs the Bishops have recorded are mastered and mixed properly but seeing them live simply oozes a redeemingly raw feeling they pump into the audience.
As sexy as these dudes are, so are their instruments, voices and appropriately tight trousers that you can set any expectation before even a note is played. Even the hot lady you’ve always been too intimidated to speak to because she’s never had to pay for a drink in her life…even she will melt at the sound of the first riff.
Too often blues bands of today get away with doing only covers. These dudes have 2 EPs and a full album worth of original music so they’re pretty covered on the originality front…singing about anything from going good to get into heaven to be with a departed friend to an (ironic?) ode to arms manufacturer Smith and Wesson.
Despite not having done a Seasick Steve cover that I’ve been able to locate, they’re able to hold a light up to some of the original blues greats. It’s also great to know that they do their homework of the industry and don’t simply cover the popular covers. In fact, I’m yet to hear them play This Train and that’s fine because if Elvis has covered it, it’s probably been covered enough times.
I might head back to Lebanon in the next few months and deciding when will be aided by when these guys will be performing. You’re welcome to come with me but until then, enjoy the okes who are in the running for the greatest blues rock duo of our generation.