Friday, March 15, 2013

Chicago blues storm into Southern California

Blues At The Crossroads 2 included a number of blues greats / Photo credit: Bob Steshetz
Two of blues' giants were honored courtesy of an amazing tribute on Wednesday night (March 13, 2013). The late Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf were celebrated by living artists who have some of the strongest links with those legendary Chicago blues pioneers.

With The Fabulous Thunderbirds anchoring the Blues At The Crossroads 2: Muddy & The Wolf performance staged at Renee and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall in Costa Mesa, the evening also featured harmonica great James Cotton, and guitarists Bob Margolin, Jody Williams and Tinsley Ellis.

Kim Wilson
The spirit of Waters and Wolf were always near throughout the rewarding night, which featured more than two hours of sterling and heartfelt performances by the artists.
The show began with the T-Birds taking the stage first, performing several songs celebrating the electric style of blues identified with Chicago. The band, led by singer-harp player Kim Wilson, also includes bassist Randy Bermudes, guitarist Mike Keller, drummer Jason Moeller and guitarist Johnny Moeller. The T-Birds brought a fire and passion to their own featured performances, as well as when supporting the other artists. Early in the night, when performing Muddy Waters' "She's Nineteen Years Old," there was an extended segment where guitarist Johnny Moeller offered up a fiery guitar solo before Wilson started blasting away on his harmonica. Throughout this, the song artfully grew in power in impressive fashion.

Next to the stage was Ellis, who performed electric guitar and sang. His guitar playing was distinct and he displayed a unique style of bending strings that gave his fret work a style of its own.

He ended his three-song set by switching to acoustic guitar and having Wilson join him to provide some harp shading atop his slide guitar work. Their version of Willie Dixon's "Little Red Rooster" (a song most identified with Howlin' Wolf) was one of the highlights of the night.

Throughout the concert, which was divided in two parts, there was an enthusiastic response from a polite audience of blues fans who filled the beautiful theater. One of the last songs performed before the intermission featured Margolin on guitar, with Wilson singing and leading the T-Birds through a mighty take on "So Sad to be Lonesome." The song began relatively slowly, but the nuanced performance would gain intensity as it moved along . Keller offered up some fantastic lead guitar work, with Wilson showcasing his amazing skills on the blues harp too. This was the type of nuanced performance that confirmed that the blues continue to display their special power when handled by masters.

Jody Williams
The second half of the concert were all about honoring two living legends. While Williams and Cotton spent most of their time on stage seated, that didn't diminish the power they brought to the night. Williams is a stylish player, with a playful personality that comes across in his guitar playing and his facial expressions. The Mobile, Alabama native seemed to be having the time of his life and it was great to see the audience recognize Williams with heartfelt affection.

"Spoonful," originally performed by Wolf and one of his most rousing performances, was played with fire this night and retained it's groundbreaking blend of psychedelic blues vibe.

Cotton, 77, was the last featured artist to grace the stage and received a rousing welcome from the crowd. Although the Tunica, Mississippi native struggles to sing nowadays, he sure proved to be an exciting harmonica player. The admiration that Cotton and Wilson have for each other is clear and their time together on stage was terrific.

The night ended with the entire ensemble of artists playing on stage together. A fitting version of Waters' "Got My Mojo Working" allowed pretty much everybody to shine, with Williams, Ellis, Margolin offering up shining guitar work before Cotton and Wilson dueled on their harps. What a night!

Bob Margolin, left, with James Cotton

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