Friday, September 08, 2017

Dion, William Bell, Sam Moore in New York

Noah Shaffer reports on a great show in New York.
Wednesday night Conan O'Brien guitarist Jimmy Vivino hosted a number of his friends for a sold-out Blues Foundation benefit at BB King's in NY. Besides leading a 9-piece house band Vivino's deep rolodex yielded advertised appearances by Dion, William Bell, Sam Moore and John Sebastian, which was enough to get me there. 
The single three-hour set started 40 minutes late but quickly picked up steam as Ruthie Foster and Catherine Russell opened with the gospel standard "John the Revelator." This was followed by a jug band segment (sans actual jug) featuring Sebastian, Bill Sims Jr. and Catherine Russell on mandolin which was one of the highlights of the night. Sebastian did his medley of "Mobile Line" and "Bullfrog Blues" which he recorded with Vivino in the J Band some 20 years ago while Sims' leads included a jug band version of "Rainy Day Women #12 and #35." A similar viewpoint was offered by a not-young artist I was previously unfamiliar with, Chris Barnes, who was introduced as having made a new "hokum blues" record produced by Letterman bassist Will Lee who was in the house band. Barnes did a humorous Country Joe-style tune about the need to smoke more weed under the current administration. I'm looking forward to hearing more of his music.
Catherine Russell reappeared for "Tell Mama" -- a rare chance to hear her powerful voice tackle full-throttle soul rather than the jazz-oriented material she currently focuses on. Next up was some Chicago blues -- Shemekia Copeland did "Wang Dang Doodle" with Russell and several of her own songs. It was great to hear her with a horn section. Bob Margolin took the lead on some chestnuts like "Mojo Workin.'" Ruthie Foster also came back for one of her originals, "Phenomenal Woman," which got a big response. Local guitarist King Solomon Hicks did some BB King -- likely one of the few times that the music of the club's namesake has been heard on the venue's main stage in recent years.
Not surprisingly there were some guitar heroes on the bill. I have to confess that between my lack of interest in blues-rock and the antics of some intoxicated Gov't Mule fans near me (their keyboardist was in the house band) I didn't pay a lot of attention to this segment. Young Warren Haynes clone Marcus King, who regardless of his middle initial might want to reconsider his "MLK" guitar strap, did an unfortunate cover of "Cry Baby." Someone from the London Souls and Greg Allman bandleader Scott Sharrard who some of us saw in Porretta were better and were only on for one song each. Joe Louis Walker straddled the blues-rock line convincingly.
Right in the middle of the guitar hero portion William Bell strode on stage surprisingly early and did the "Private Number" duet with Ruthie Foster. (Catherine Russell also did a great job with the Judy Clay part when she toured with Bell last summer.)  At this point two very good things happened: William Bell sang his masterpiece "I Forgot to Be Your Lover" and the most drunk and obnoxious of the Gov't Mule clan announced to me that he was bored and going to the bathroom where he apparently stayed for the rest of the night. Bell's segment ended with "Born Under a Bad Sign" featuring a surprisingly tasteful cameo from Gary Clark Jr. who had not been announced.
Although Bell went midshow the other two headliners closed out the night. It's hard to imagine that in 2017 William Bell might not be the best male soul singer on any package, but Sam Moore sure gave him a run for his money on his surprise opener "Get Out My Life Woman." He then announced that he was going to do a song from a forthcoming patriotic LP and that if people liked it "they should BUY, BUY, BUY it." I cringed since Moore infamously appeared at the Trump inauguration, but no politics were referenced, and somewhat confusingly the "patriotic" selection was "Imagine" (whose lyrics aren't exactly a call to consumerism) and Moore sang it wonderfully before finishing with a lengthy "Soul Man."
Now Vivino announced it was "time to go to the Bronx," and a wave excitement spread through the crowd, since even in his hometown Dion Dimucci appearances are rare. He opened with a tough-as-nails "King of the New York Streets" before doing his recent "Gangster of Love" which he recorded with Vivino. Dion was as badass as ever and backed by the best band I've ever seen him with. Finally Vivino welcomed back Sebastian and Margolin who had asked to be on stage for "The Wanderer."
The night ended on a mellow night with Vivino, Margolin and Sebastian playing "Texas Flood" in tribute to those who had been impacted by the recent weather events. While it may not have been the most consistent evening of music, it sure offered a lot of sparks in aid of a great cause.


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