Seeing Otis and the Alligators rock Whiskey one last time brought back memories of the first time I heard them play more than ten years ago, also at Whiskey. Through the years they have lost none of their enthusiasm for blues, but times and people change and this was the last visit for the band since they are disbanding this summer after 17 plus years of playing. After briefly explaining this, and thanking their many fans, front man Otis McClendon started things up for one last blues party at Whiskey with his smooth, powerful harp and clear, strong vocals on the funky driving blues of "Low Down and Dirty." Otis played some solid, repeating riffs with an old-style, rich and full Chicago sound. Otis has a nice tenor voice that he wraps around the blues with style and enthusiasm. Brilliant guitarist Michael Boyle has a style of his own, sharply dressed and playing snarling, driving guitar riffs. Solid B-3 player and songwriter Bill Engel gets a nice, dark, grinding voice out of his organ to add to the richness of the band's sound.
Bill shared vocal duties throughout the night, singing in a husky, gritty voice that runs deep with emotion. His strong, gritty vocals and Otis' wailing harp made the song "Shindig" come alive with a hip, cool sound. Otis has honed his harp skills over the years, showing it all on the jazzy, slow rolling blues of "Long Gone." He held, bent and repeated notes with fluid expression, blending his playing with the soulful guitar riffs rippling off Michael's guitar. Michael showed his talent on the rhumba-beat blues of "It's Over." Starting with a beautiful, subtle, and emotional solo, he built his playing up to soaring chords, ringing out, fluid chord progressions, and punctured by piercing quick licks. The band's tight instrumental sound and Otis' expressive vocals reinforced the bittersweet lyrics about ending a relationship. Bill showed off both his gritty, husky vocals and Hammond B-3 on "Love in a Higher Place." Bill's solid, driving B-3 and strong, expressive harp riffs by Otis drove the song. All the while Michael played some great repeating riffs with quiet passion. The rhythm section of Ken Stevenson on bass and Ethan Noadyk on drums provided a solid, often funky beat that kept things going all night long.
This band always plays a nice blend of covers and originals, featuring songs from their last CD, Tough Hide and Bonafide. "Stop Your Groaning Baby" is a fast rocking blues built on Michael's fast, jangling guitar riffs and Otis' full, rich harp sound. "The Chill," an original written by Otis off the last CD, features Otis' deep, expressive harp sound and his hip, impassioned vocals. The lyrics about mistakes and regrets pack a deep emotional impact. The band's cover of B.B. King's "Sweet Little Angel" was a real treat, powered by Michael's great guitar licks, Otis' superb harp playing, and Bill's solid job on B-3. "Don't Quit Your Day Job" served up a bittersweet and humorous look at the musician's life, delivered via funky, up-tempo blues. The band closed things out with the sweet, sad and passionate blues of "Damn Your Eyes." With Otis singing with soul and playing his fluid, mournful harp, the band delivered another gem from their last CD.
Otis and the Alligators are one of the many fine barroom blues bands out of Wisconsin that have regularly visited the Twin Cities. While it is sad to see them give up playing as a group, they certainly went out in style by giving their fans and the many dancers in the crowd a chance to swing one last time to their energetic, heart-felt blues. Hopefully all of these fine musicians will keep playing to keep the blues alive in whatever they choose to do individually.
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