Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Downchild Blues Band Live At Showplace

    What can one say about the legendary Downchild Blues Band that hasn't already been said in their 40 year career? Their current lineup is a six piece and they are very tight. The energy and obvious joy behind the music makes you wonder if it's blues at all. Then Chuck Jackson sings something about being in love with two women at the same time and you're right back in the delta.
    They broke their two hour show into two sets with an intermission in the middle. After the intermission Donny Walsh, Mike Fitzpatrick the drummer, Gary Kendal on bass and Michael Fonfara on keyboard returned to the stage. Donny sang a few songs himself while wailing on the harmonica. The fact that the band works as a 6 piece or a 4 piece makes the fact that Donny can't sing rather irrelevant. These guys know how to play their style of music better than anyone whether they've got a full band or are stripped right down.
    They played a nice mix of old and new songs. They played some songs off their new album such as I Need A Hat, Somebody Lied and Down In The Delta. While there's nothing wrong with those songs, they don't have many miles on them. Because they are new songs they lacked the crowd response that pushes classics like Jump Right Up, Flip Flop & Fly and the singalong (I Got Everything I Need) Almost into high energy songs that you can't sit still to.
    Purists or traditionalists would not call this blues. This is blues with an obvious urban influence - a very strong, pounding beat that is missing from most traditional blues. The saxophone and keyboard add elements of rock and roll and even jazz into the mix. The way Donny plays guitar there isn't anything particularly bluesy about it unless it's slide so it's up to Chuck's voice to bring it all home, which he does every time.  Try sitting still when they blast through Jump Through Right Up, I guarantee you'll be on your feet by the end of the song.
    They all really get into the high energy music they make. Gary the bass player had a grin on his face for most of the show. Everyone is constantly moving around the stage talking to each other, making each other laugh as the song grooves. Chuck really gets into the music, jumping up and down and moving all over the stage releasing energy. If he wasn't singing he was playing the harmonica. Every so often Donny would put his guitar down and pull out another harmonica. When Chuck & Donny went at it on the double harmonica things really started to heat up. There are few things better than two older blues men just going at it on duelling harmonicas, the energy and skill required to really cook on a harmonica make for a great show.
    The dynamic range of the band is really quite remarkable. In Tell Your Mama they go from barn burning energy of all 6 pieces going at once down to just Donny softly playing his harmonica and then right back up. Everything revolves around Mr. Downchild: when he nods people solo, or a piece drops out or they all kick back in at high speed. Though he spent most of the show looking at his guitar and just shredding he was clearly in command of the stage.
    Donny Walsh has been leading Downchild for more than 40 years now. And it shows. They are truly a tight, together combo that knows the ins and outs of the music they play. The music is high energy; it's a fun show and both the audience and the band knows it. You don't go to a Downchild show to sit in the back and nod your head to the overwhelming beat. You have to get up and dance until the last song has faded from the amps.  These guys know how to put on a strong, entertaining show and they did just that.