The Nighthawks have been called the best bar band in the world, and it's tough to argue against that label after hearing and seeing their solid show at Dean's. After having played The Narrows on Friday and at Whiskey Junction the previous night, the band brought their rocking blues into Dean's for an early Sunday afternoon show. This is a solid, veteran blues band that has lost none of their enthusiasm or energy for playing the blues. Led by Mark Wenner on harmonica and vocals, they thrilled the small, enthusiastic crowd with a good mix of originals and blues covers. Wenner played great, soaring, upbeat harmonica riffs on their original, "Cry Like a Man." This expressive blues grinder featured the smooth, beautiful tenor of drummer Pete Ragusa and the slow, soulful guitar licks of Pete Kanaras.
The Nighthawks played an excellent cover of Willie Dixon's "The Same Old Thing," which they recorded on their Pain in Paradise CD. This slow, beautiful blues grinder about lust, desire, and love, is one of Dixon's more underplayed songs. Pete K. provided some eerie, rich, slow slide guitar here as Wenner blew smooth, fluid riffs, singing in his raspy, bass voice just built for blues. The band changed up the pace by coming back with the double shuffle of "Tiger in Your Tank" which had Pete K. playing ringing slide guitar licks and Mark adding fast expressive harp riffs to the mix. The band got in a funky groove on "Shade Tree Mechanic" with Mark blowing strong, low, rich chords and singing with energy and passion.
Through the show the band played a great selection of covers along with their originals, paying tribute to Walter Horton, Muddy Waters, and Bo Diddley. Mark's singing and harp blowing on "My Babe" are the best I've heard recently, comparable to the great job Kim Wilson of The Fabulous Thunderbirds does with this song. Here, and on some of their originals, the band showed some great vocal harmonies that added to the show. "I Can't Be Satisfied" was true to the spirit and energy of Muddy Waters. Another song that stood out was the hip, grooving number "A Pretty Gal, A Cadillac, and Some Money." Mark Wenner provided raspy, expressive vocals with a hip inflection and solid harp. Many of the songs they played in this show were from their last CD, Live Tonight.
This solid band, that once featured Jimmy Thackery on guitar, has backed many legendary blues players, including James Cotton and Elvin Bishop. After Thackery left to form his own band, they had many different guitarists, including Jimmy Hall, James Solberg, Bob Margolin, and others. Pete Kanaras is a solid player throughout, playing with energy and skill. Having two excellent, yet very different, singers in Mark Wenner and Pete Ragusa gives the band more range and diversity in their material. Solid bass player Jan Zukowski rounds out the current band. While their CD's are good, The Nighthawks need to be seen live to be truly appreciated. Here's to hoping they don't wait so long before coming back again!
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