I've been trying to get to a House of Blues venue for years, but have just never been able to swing it. I finally got my chance during a five-day visit to Boston, and was really happy that my first HOB experience was at the very first club opened, the "original" House of Blues in Cambridge, Massachusetts. It is also the smallest HOB - the music is up on the second story of what looks like a large A-frame house. I've got to believe it's the funkiest HOB too. There are all kinds of interesting things to look at on the walls: colorful artwork, a black-and-white close-up photo of the hands of "Jake" and "Elwood" ... even the ticket-taker's stand is a strangely proportioned, chunky mixture of small colored tiles and bottle caps. And, if you simply looked up, you saw the soft, white portraits of all the blues "greats" that line the ceiling. There are no tables at this HOB, just
Allison and Duarte are co-headlining on this tour, switching off in the first and second slots each night. Both are touring in support of new releases: Allison's is "Across the Water" on Tone-Cool Records and Duarte's is "Love is Greater Than Me" on the Zoe label. On this particular night, Bernard played first. Long and lean, he looked very sharp as he took the stage in
his boots, black dress pants, royal blue velour shirt and black hat. He opened with "I Can't Get You Out of My Mind" from his '98 "Times Are Changing" CD and then tore into the rocker "I Just Came Back to Say Goodbye" from the new CD. The funky "Life is a Bitch" (also from the '98 CD) was followed by two more cuts from the new one: another rocker, "The River's Rising", and a slow instrumental called "I've Been Down". Bernard described this one as "Stevie Ray Vaughan a la Buddy Guy". Keyboard player Mike
Vlahakis took a great solo here. Vlahakis used to play with Bernard's father, Luther Allison, and also with James Solberg, Deborah Coelman, Jay Stulo and others. Before calling it a set, Bernard walked all the way to the back of the club while playing slide, pausing just long enough to take a swig from someone's bottle of Rolling Rock. Needless to say, this worked the crowd into a frenzy.
After a long break, Chris Duarte and his band took over. But first, Chris spent a good chunk of time tuning and re-tuning, and tending to his lengthy row of Danelectro pedals on the floor. His long-time bassist. John Jordan, left the band amicably but very abruptly just two weeks before this show. Robert Kearns has taken his place, and it was amazing how well he had the songs down and how perfectly he fit in with the band. By all outward
appearances, it seems they never missed a beat with Jordan's departure. After years of watching guitar players and seeing hundreds of shows, I have never seen anyone play as HARD as Chris Duarte. Wearing a long-sleeved black shirt and velour purple-and-black leopard pattern pants, he became one with his axe and thrashed like a man possessed, not in a forced or contrived manner, but truly into the "zone" of what he was doing. I have heard that this is the norm for him every single night he plays - he gives it his all, always.
Highlights for me were two of his older songs and three new ones from "Love is Greater Than Me". One of the older ones was also the "bluesiest" tune of the night: "Letter To My Girlfriend" from his first release, "Texas Sugar Strat Magic". This tune has also been recorded by Guitar Slim Jr., Hubert Sumlin, and Stevie Ray Vaughan (like Vaughan, Duarte is from Texas). Duarte also tore it up in a BIG way on "Crimino" from his second CD, "Tailspin Headwhack". After seeing this cat live, the title of that release makes perfect sense. He is wild, wild, wild, and I would not recommend his show to
anyone with a pacemaker or other health concerns! He had to constantly re-tune his guitar because he plays it SO hard.
Some of the new songs included the loping, mid-tempo CD opener, "Baddness," the slightly slower "All Night" and the rocker "Soul Thing", which finds Duarte singing the same lead lines that he is playing on guitar. Duarte has a fairly average build, but his neck is huge, and when he sings the veins in his neck become very prominent. He is as amazing to watch as he is to listen to.
This Bernard Allison/Chris Duarte double-bill is coming to the Minnesota
Music Café in St. Paul November 11. Providing you're in good health, don't
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