It's unfortunate we have to start things off on a negative note here, but there's something wrong with the blues in 2008. This isn't at all to say that there was something wrong with the blues acts Sound Check saw on Monday night. No sir-ee. In our estimation, though, there is indeed something wrong with the blues at large.
Yes sir-ee. Call it diluted...faded...cliché. Call it co-opted by an insufficiently downtrodden, minimally grizzled generation of young Americans. In any case, when Sound Check goes to listen to some modern blues music, we tend not to expect much beyond run-of-the-mill electric guitar wailing and recycled vocal style.
The rules change, though, when an act like Back Door Slam comes to town.
Surely you read all about the group in the vaunted pages of last week's issue. If not, here's the nut: They're a trio of pre-drinking-age spring chickens led by one Davy Knowles, a bonafide guitar prodigy hailing all the way from the Irish Sea's Isle of Man.
Believe the hype, kids. Even set aside the fact that the young feller's name and place of origin are so damn cool to begin with. If you were at the Domino Room on Monday, you know that Knowles and his band are The Real McCoy.
Bend-bred quartet Smokin' Trainwreck did a fine job opening the show, warming the crowd by hammering out a few blues-flavored originals and some covers (The Doors, Skynyrd, etc.) with their two-guitar gambit. Sunglasses-clad frontman Rees was a nice balance of enthusiastic-slash-jaded, bemoaning the karaoke-riddled Bend bar band scene and giving props to his "soon to be ex-wife," a late buddy, and Hank Williamses I, II and III for inspiration, among other banter and heartfelt sentimentality.
Game was most decidedly on, though, when the headliner took the stage. Not to take anything away from Smokin' Trainwreck, but you know that saying about "lead, follow or get outta the way?" The third option is surely best for most bands when Back Door Slam is around.
The ample over-21 Monday crowd (most of them apparently well over 21, incidentally) was already relatively hyped from the Trainwreck's moderately tight set, but their level of yee-haw hit a new level almost immediately once BDS took the stage. Crowd members of note included Tie Dye Guy with his flawless running man, and two or three cougar-esque ladies following the tradition of the dazed hippie sky-caressing dance.
Knowles was the clear leader of the crew, standing prominently up front while a stoic (yet-nimble-fingered) dude caressed his bass guitar next to an unobtrusive drummer at the back of the stage. Fair enough - Davy Boy's tornado-grade guitar work (that thing is alive) and pit-o-the-soul vocals were more than up to the task of keeping the room engaged. Somehow the politely bored-looking rhythm section actually lent a kind of cool, jazz trio-style professionalism to the whole thing.
Like Smokin' Trainwreck, BDS ran grade-A originals alongside hallowed classics...and it must be noted that Knowles and Co. absolutely did a hell of a job (and then some) filling the shoes of legends on covers like "Riding With the King," their namesake Robert Cray song "Back Door Slam," and a particularly brutal guitar-torturing rendition of "Red House."
Isle of Man Boy, you're The Man. Thank you very much indeed.