JOHNNY WINTER LIVE – NARROWS CENTER FOR THE ARTS – REVIEW BY AJ WACHTEL
Narrows Center For The Arts
Fall River, Ma
It was pretty obvious to me as I approached The Narrows Center For The Arts, a club located on the third floor of an old mill, and saw 75 people waiting in line for the doors to open that this was going to be a special night; and that’s an understatement.
Opening act JW Jones is a three piece hard rocking somewhat bluesabilly band from Ottawa, Canada who is on board for a couple of gigs on Winter’s tour; and these cats are very polished after spending the past couple of years playing in 17 countries on 4 different continents; and their show is tight and very entertaining. Sometimes Jones sounds like SRV and sometimes he sounds like Billy Lee Riley; but it is always good and it is always a bit wild. At one time mid-song the guitarist moves over to play the drums while the drummer moves over to play the bass while the female bassist moves over to play guitar; and they accomplish this without skipping a beat. Pretty cool and pretty talented. At another point, with the guitar strapped around Jones’ neck, the bassist and the drummer come out to play different parts on the guitar and the crowd is audibly and visually entertained by this unique display of their talents. One of the songs I really dug was “Kissing In Memphis” from their last cd. Check them out now.
This room is a long rectangle with the stage along one of the long sides with tables in front and a couple of rows of seats behind them. And the sound is good and loud and with a good mix so you can pretty much hear it well wherever you are.
The first thing I notice is Johnny walks onstage pretty much unassisted. This is the first time I’ve seen him do this in a couple of years and it reassures me that tonight is going to be special just like I had previously thought. JW turns 70 next month and to me he seems healthier in mind, body and spirit than he has for a long time. First his songs:
Before the set, I asked him what was on his list for the night? “Chuck. The Stones. Muddy and Robert Johnson?” and he nodded and said “Yep. That pretty much takes care of it” and he proved to be a man of his word. Opening with “Johnny B. Good” the hour long performance kept building momentum song after song. “Jumpin’ Jack Flash” and “It’s All Over Now”, “Boney Maroney”, “Got My Mojo Working”; “Highway 61” and “Dust My Broom” on slide were all done to perfection; and the packed house loved it.
The second thing I notice is how tight and powerful the band is. And this is another understatement. First, second guitarist Paul Nelson (who also is JW’s manager) is the perfect guitar foil to Johnny’s signature and iconic playing. He never overplays or competes; he just plays ALL the other notes needed to push Winter to be at his best. And they play so well together. Bassist Scott Spray is on fire. His right hand moves up and down the fret board plucking and dampening strings while his left hand also moves up and down the fret board picking the notes. His booming bass keeps it all together. And drummer Tommy Curiale is a perfect hard pounding and very powerful drummer. You can really feel it in the audience when his foot pedals the kick drum and when his creative time keeping comes down hard on his snare. And I really love the way he slaps his cymbals. All of a sudden, I hear an unexpected crash and I love it. I also like the way they smile at each other mid-song deep in a tight groove fully aware of the great sound they are creating. And everyone in the crowd is smiling too. A great way to start the year. Fasten your seatbelts and enjoy the ride. It’s January and Winter is here.
Check out Johnny Winter 1/31 at The Larcom Theater in Beverly, Mass.
Check out The Narrows Winter Blues Festival featuring Joe Louis Walker, Jessie Dee, The Holmes Brothers, Cedric Burnside Project and The Delta Generals 1/25 in Fall River, Mass.