It's always fun to visit the Medina for a show, especially when there's a large crowd. Not that I like large crowds but this place can certainly handle a very large audience without you feeling closed in like some sardine in a can. The entire center section was filled to capacity with a very appreciative audience of blues fans. You can easily see the performers on the large stage from just about anywhere in the room. And the sound and lighting are excellent here at Medina unless you are standing behind the ceiling mounted speakers behind the stage area.
A special thanks to the Medina staff (especially Mark) for all the help. Right after Coco started playing I took a few pictures with my new digital camera and discovered that my batteries had just run out. Even though it has a large screen I guess I still missed the little battery indicator. What can I say, you know there are at least 3 things that begin to go with age - hearing, sight and I can't remember the other. So at the break before Castro came on I went looking for 4 AA batteries. I eventually ran into Mark again and he just made a call on his lapel mounted mic and sent me down to the bar area where someone was waiting there with my new batteries. Very nice. Thank you.
Now you do get a slightly different vibe in a smaller venue that is packed to the rafters with hot, sweating fans but this place, tonight, was alright because I could easily walk around, get different perspectives, check out the audience, and even occasionally talk to people and hear what they were saying. I ran into quite a few old friends I haven't seen in a while.
Coco Montoya was the opening act, or I guess you would call this a co-billing, as both performers are headliners in their own right. He was in very good musical form tonight. I have seen him at times when he was not up to his best performance but tonight was not one of those nights. Tonight he was definitely "on."
It's been a couple of years since his last release of new material. Although in 2009 he just released a new CD called The Essential Coco Montoya on Blind Pig Records featuring a collection of some of his favorite cuts. He did say he has finished a new CD that will be out in 2010 so we look forward to that. You can find MP 3 downloads of 84 of his songs here.
Tonight his singing was soulful, his guitar was soaring and his performance was excellent. He readily engaged and connected with the audience who were very appreciative of him and his performance. On his rendition of Women Have A Way With A Fool from his Can't Look Back
CD he definitely took to heart the advise he received long ago from one of his early mentors, Albert Collins, when he was told to just play with feeling.
Montoya readily expressed his emotions in both his playing and playful interchanges with the audience. He talked of his day's playing in the Bluesbreakers with John Mayall as an introduction to one of his songs that he dedicated to Clapton. He played one of his "extended" guitar solos here and good naturedly even looked at his watch during the mesmerizing rendition.
Kudos to Coco, keep up the good work and we look foreword to that new release next year.
As an amusing aside, near to the end of Coco's set he featured each of his bandmates, allowing them to play solo. I just happened to be standing next to local drummer Allen Kirk when the drummer was laying it out with a "very" long drum solo, I'm talking In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida long but much more animated. I leaned over and jokingly asked Allen if that drummer was any good. Allen said with a smile that he's doing some things I can't do anymore.
See previous live reviews, interviews and CD reviews of Coco Montoya on the Live Review and CD Review pages.
After the break and equipment change out (which allowed me to find those replacement batteries for my camera) Tommy took the stage. Always a very warm, friendly and gracious performer, Castro launched right into his exuberant performance with songs from his previous albums over the past two decades. His engaging charisma radiates from the stage in a way that draws you in to his performance like an old friend.
Tommy has a nice rock and roll and classic soul/R&B sensibility about his music that is always upbeat and fun to listen to with some captivating rhythms and sometimes searing guitar licks. He will interject some amusing stories during the show like his introduction to the song Make It Back To Memphis on his new CD Hard Believer on Alligator Records.
The last time I say Tommy at Medina, a number of years ago, he just had his long time sax playing partner with him (Keith Crossan) as well as his bass player and drummer. Tonight he added a 6th piece (trumpet) to the band, filling out the sound even more.
By the way, his bass player tonight had some really cool looking boots on.
He played an always interesting mix of songs that displayed his love for soul/R&B and other diverse influences including Dylan with Gotta Serve Somebody, also on his new CD, Hard Believer. Just to mention a few others, The Righteous Brothers, Toussaint, Corpper & Pickett and Rick Estrin.
He started out his set entering from off stage walking through the audience playing his guitar. At first you heard him playing but didn't quite know where he was. The house spotlight finally caught up with him. And later in the show he said "I feel like a good 'ol John Lee Hooker boogie right here" as he launched into the Hooker beat, headed out into the audience again and took it off right up to the stratosphere.
I remember talking to Tommy at one of his first shows in the Twin Cities at the old Biscuits and Blues club in downtown Minneapolis. The intimate venue allowed you to be up front and get personal with Tommy and his band and experience his friendly persona just like he was visiting you at home. I don't recall exactly what we talked about but was impressed with his openness and sincerity. And I really loved his strong R&B sensibilities.
So if you haven't seen him live, do so. And if you don't have any of his CDs yet, get some, you will glad you did.
See previous live reviews, interviews and CD reviews of Tommy Castro on the Live Review and CD Review pages.