It was a typical completely packed Saturday evening at Nashville's famed Bourbon Street Bar. Houseband Stacy Mitchhart and Blues-U-Can-Use were already laying it down when I arrived. Their first set featured the full band and was highlighted by a performance of "Dirty Dishes". It was an electric, funked-up, interactive, humorous version (unlike the one on his Simple Medicine CD) where Stacy jammed extensively on his guitar. "King Bee" was performed with a funky groove and a guitar solo laced with feeling. The opening set culminated with a high energy, blasting version of "Love of Mine" where Stacy didn't hesitate to showcase his band.
Malcolm Hare continues to work wonders in Nashville. A few years ago he opened Bourbon Street with its New Orleans theme including Mardi Gras beads and a Cajun menu. In 2000, the club was honored by being named the Blues Foundation's Keeping The Blues Alive Award for Blues Club Of The Year. Now he has opened a live music sister club (across the street) named Congo Square. One cover gains you admission to both clubs and they alternate the band's set times so you never miss a note! Malcolm gave me a guided tour of his newest creation which also has the New Orleans theme. However, that is where the similarities between the 2 clubs stops. Congo Square is much larger (2 decent sized levels are already opened and a third is in the works) and includes a separate casual room where you can have a quiet drink if you choose. Nashville's newest blues bar is designed after its namesake in New Orleans and it is simply magnificent. The decor is bright and clean and the florals make you feel as if you are out on the street. There is no seat with a bad view of the stage (which will thrill those who are familiar with the original Bourbon Street club) and the sound system is top notch. By contrast, the Bourbon Street Blues & Boogie Bar is an intimate place. If you are lucky enough to get a seat on the main level, you will be only inches from the stage.
Anthony Gomes has recently relocated from Chicago to take the job as Congo's houseband. He has added horns and a backup singer to his already hot band. Together, they played steamy, hip-grindin', must-dance blues from his first CD. Later in the evening, as things were getting wild onstage, some of the crowd in the higher level threw their beads onto the stage. Anthony retaliated by bringing out the heavy artillery which was some of the largest Mardi Gras beads I have seen.
Back at Bourbon Street, Stacy was doing an unplugged set as a 4 piece band. "100 Degrees In The Shade" and "Come On In My Kitchen" were tremendous. By the 3rd set, his brass section was thundering even though Peter Burger (sax) was sitting out due to recent bypass surgery. Trumpeter Quentin Ware looked like he was going to pop a vessel as he hit notes that were stratospheric while the attractive saxophonist Dana Robbins hit notes as sweet as she looked. Earlier in the set, Stacy took the stage without his guitar and performed "Caught In The Middle" with much conviction. The crowd reacted heartily on the humorous "Shave That Monkey". Stacy focused his attention on a lady in the audience and interacted with her as only a true entertainer could do. Throughout the night, Mitchhart delivered solid vocals with his popish and raspy voice.
By 1:45am, it was a mad Mardi Gras party. When "Last 2 Dollars" was performed by Stacy, the night was officially complete. In a live setting, Stacy puts on a raucous houseparty which isn't always present on his new CD called "What I Feel". In between sets he explained, 'the new CD has a real R&B/soul flavor to it on purpose. Those are my roots and its the type of music that I listen to the most. I threw in some acoustic stuff just to mix things up. I know there isn't a huge audience for acoustic so I limited it to a couple numbers'.
In the end, the verdict was out even though it was by no means a competition. Gomes is a sensational young guitarist with songwriting skills and looks that kill but Stacy is a more seasoned and complete entertainer. Thus, he knew how to play for the crowd whether he was doing his own material or covering blues, soul, R&B or rock. Be sure to hit both of these clubs to "laissez les bon temps rouler" the next time you are in the Music City. Don't be surprised if you find yourself at Bourbon Street for last call.
For CDs, booking and information, contact: www.stacymitchhart.com and www.anthonygomes.com
This review is copyright © 2001 by Tim Holek, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.