Once in a while, everything falls into place and you get a chance to maximize your musical entertainment dollar on a given weekend, without having to race from club to club on a single evening. Such was the case on the first weekend of August when on consecutive evenings, I was able to enjoy some great music a two very different venues in the Twin Cities.
On Friday night, I braved the potential parking problems posed by the Uptown Art Fair to see the enormously talented guitarist, Joanna Connor. Arriving about 15 minutes before showtime, the Joanna Connor Band opened right on time, providing a great 75 minute opening set at Famous Dave's BBQ & Blues in Uptown. In addition to Joanna's considerable talents, particularly when she fires up her Gibson Les Paul playing slide guitar, the band included a special guest from Chicago on second lead guitar, Quintus McCormick. Although McCormick's style was very different from Connor's, the two styles complimented each other quite nicely as the guitarists traded solos throughout the set. Quintus McCormick who was offering a CD for sale performed two numbers specifically featuring him on guitar and vocals, the second with an extended guitar solo performed mostly offstage roaming through the audience. Among the other songs performed during the set were "No Black or White" from Connor's latest CD, The Joanna Connor Band; a very unique version of the Willie Dixon classic, I Just Want To Make Love To You" and an extended version of "Walkin' Blues" that included solos by all four members of the band.
Saturday evening involved a different venue (Lee's Liquor Lounge) and two very different band from the prior evening. I walked into Lee's at about 9:30 p.m. and found a seat, just in time to see The Vibro Champs, a great Twin Cities rock-a-billy band who were opening that evening for The Paladins. The band, including guitarist/vocalists Dave Wolfe and Al Subola, Bill Keefe on acoustic bass and Dave Weiss on drums, performed a great set, opening with "Out With The In Crowd." Subola and Wolfe traded vocals and shared comments with the growing, active crowd that keep the dance floor filled to capacity. The band was full of energy and transferred much of that energy to the audience during the set that included songs from their three independent releases and a fourth release that is currently in process. Songs included "Broken Heart," "Buenos Suerte," "Wild Child" and "Parttime Girlfriend," along with several excellent instrumentals like the original, "Border Patrol."
Following the completion of the fruitful efforts of The Vibro Champs, The Paladins climbed onto the stage at Lee's to give the ready crowd a huge dose of rock n' roll, rock-a-billy, country and honky-tonk music. The Paladins are a three piece combo based out of Austin, Texas that includes drummer Brian Fahey, Thomas Yearsley on acoustic bass and featuring guitarist extraordinare Dave Gonzalez. Just prior to their performance, I was thrilled to learn that The Paladins were about to release a new CD on Luz Records called El Matador (Gonzalez mentioned that I was the first person in the Twin Cities to own a copy). It was clear that many of the patrons at Lee's had come to the bar to see The Paladins, especially since the dance floor was packed from the first note of the band's opening instrumental, "Power Shift."
One of the great things about rock-a-billy music is that the songs are relatively short, probably 3-4 minutes each, versus the longer jams often heard in blues or hard rock. What this translates into for the rock-a-billy fan is that you get to hear lots of different songs in a shorter period of time. This, however, did not stop the incomparable Dave Gonzalez from continually dazzling the crowd with his fine guitar work. The songs were varied and very cool. Some just romped like "Hot Rod Rocket," while others were smoother, such as "Look What You're Doing To Me." On "She's Fine," Yearsley and Fahey both shared solo time with Gonzalez. Songs from the new CD included the Spanish-flavored instrumental and title track, "El Matador" and "Don't Come Callin'." During the show, Gonzalez indicated that the band was dedicating the show to the recently deceased founder of Sun Records, Sam Phillips, and then specifically dedicated a song from the Sun Records catalog called "Rock n' Roll Ruby" to the musical pioneer.
It was a great weekend of music in the Twin Cities and two high energy shows featuring to different, but definitely related styles of music. Both shows were well attended, very entertaining and exemplary of the wealth of live music available for fans in the Minneapolis/Saint Paul and the surrounding area.
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