Lucid Culture

JAZZ, CLASSICAL MUSIC AND THE ARTS IN NEW YORK CITY

Concert Review from the Archives: Joe Louis Walker, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Scotty Moore and Ike Turner in Central Park 7/26/97

A fair approximation of what the Robert Cray/Albert Collins/Johnny Copeland album Showdown might have sounded like, live. Roomful of Blues opened the outdoor show with a set of pedestrian, swingy blues. Joe Louis Walker followed, backed by an excellent band featuring a terrific rhythm guitarist who only got one solo all night long but made the most of it. Walker is the absolute real deal: the guy can play. His opening tune was a long, extended number, possibly titled Hip Shaking Mama, featuring all kinds of searing, distorted solos on a black Gibson solidbody. Another original, Slipping and Sliding was next, and just as long, Walker switching to a Les Paul, playing with in an open tuning with a slide and this was as good as Sonny Rhodes at his best. It was pretty obvious that Walker knew this would be a shootout, and he was trying his best to establish himself as the meanest guitarslinger onstage before the others appeared.

Matt “Guitar” Murphy, of Blues Brothers fame, was the first to join him. Early on, he tried several of his trademark lightining-fast triplets and couldn’t get off the ground with them, so he stuck wailing furiously up and down on chords and burning through innumerable, supersonic blues runs, and ended up stealing the show. It’s hard to imagine Murphy, or for that matter any lead guitarist, turning in a more exciting performance than Murphy’s today: pretty impressive, considering the rest of the crew who would be up there with him. After a gentle, jazz-inflected solo in the duo’s first song together, he took a fiery, searing one in the next tune that had everything a good solo should have: spectacular speed, melodicism and a point to drive home, hard. Later he took another one but lost focus and fell back into triplet mode. At that point, Walker, who was playing rhythm, hit his distortion pedal and really slammed out his chords, as if to say, Matt, get your act together. Which Murphy did, spectacularly.

Scotty Moore, the legendary lead player in Elvis Presley’s original band then joined them, somewhat of a fish out of water. He comes from an earlier era, a jazzier, more reflective school of lead playing, like Les Paul or an even mellower Jimmy Rogers. He looked lost up there more often than not, surrounded by so much adrenaline: ostentation is not his thing. Walker savagely stepped all over the outro to one of Moore’s solos, bringing the intensity up to redline again in seconds flat.

Then Ike Turner joined the fray, first playing sensationally good, fast, brightly chordal blues piano, then wailing on a Strat running through all kinds of effects: chorus, digital delay and then a phaser. Which was showy, assuring him the spotlight whenever he took a solo, regardless of what he played. Although he was also excellent, using short bursts a la Albert Collins from time to time and with the phaser, this was intense and extremely entertaining. They did Rocket 88 as Turner returned to the piano and sang it; vocally, he’s lost quite a bit. Later, they all did Mystery Train, showcasing Moore again. Their lone encore had all five of the guitarists soloing and playing off each other and rather than sounding like Phish, this was amazing, Moore even being swept up in the madness and turning in his most incisive, bluesy solo of the night. A frequently transcendent, historically significant show.

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July 26, 2008 Posted by | blues music, concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Concert Review: The James Cotton Band at Metrotech Park, Brooklyn NY 7/26/07

Although James Cotton is their drawing card, he doesn’t sing or even talk to the audience. But his band is killer. No surprise, considering that Cotton’s main axeman in the 70s was none other than Matt “Guitar” Murphy of Animal House and Blues Brothers fame. This afternoon, the portly ex-Muddy Waters blues harpist took a seat in front of his four-piece backing unit, almost at the edge of the stage, beyond the shadow cast by the fabric of the tent overhead. From the amount of sweat pouring from his brow, it was clear that this was not the most comfortable place he could have been. Considering the early hour of the show (for an old bluesman, at least) and the oppressive humidity, it wouldn’t be fair to blame him for basically phoning it in. Playing mostly chromatic harp, he proved that he still has the earthy, sometimes showy chops that got him the gig with Muddy, but he didn’t do much of anything else. Today was the band’s turn to kick ass.

Singer/lead guitarist Slam Allen, who’s essentially their frontman, is star in his own right, a brilliant player, excellent singer and quite the showman. From his first rapidly precise excursion up the fretboard, it was clear that the heat didn’t bother him in the least. He played soulfully and often spectacularly fast throughout the band’s roughly 45-minute set, literally channeling B.B. King at times, especially on their two King covers, Let the Good Times Roll and How Blue Can You Get. Rhythm player Tom Holland, on the other hand, played like somebody had pulled him out of bed, consistently biting off more than he could chew whether he was soloing with a slide or launching into some frenetic chord-chopping. He clearly has the chops to do it: it’s a safe bet to say that if this had been late in the evening at some crowded blues joint, he would have pulled it off. The rhythm section gave the songs swing and bounce; their only misstep was letting bassist Charles Mack take an excruciatingly long, wanky, finger-poppin’ solo during one of the earlier numbers. It’s nice to see a veteran of a rapidly vanishing genre getting good paying gigs like this one– probably far more lucrative than anything he ever did with Muddy – at this stage of his career.

An old-timey band, the Carolina Chocolate Drops, opened the show with a brief, barely half-hour set. While the musicians, particularly the fiddle player, proved adept at old acoustic country blues, they need to find somebody who can sing. Or they should just do instrumentals, which would be fine.

Outdoor NYC parks shows like this one are a great way to see some fairly important figures in the history of music, for free, with absolutely no hassles. Another fairly important band from an entirely different genre, 70s roots reggae vets the Itals play here on August 9 at noon, definitely worth seeing if that’s your thing.

July 26, 2007 Posted by | concert, Live Events, Music, music, concert, New York City, review, Reviews | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment