Music

Nightcrawler: “Smoke” Show

Blackberry Smoke billows blues-based country rock at Wolf Den; Def Lep & KISS turn the clocks back with faithful, classic rock performances.

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Thursday, August 21, 2014
Gary Carra photo
Gene Simmons in Hartford

True, Blackberry Smoke had come on a very high recommendation from a friend of the Crawler’s friend. But who were these other hundreds of people lined up outside the Mohegan Sun Wolf Den to see an out-of-the-area band devoid of any certifiable radio hits?

Hardcore, blue-collar, American-beer-drinking fans, the Crawler would soon learn. Seems that Blackberry Smoke fans its fanbase with a hearty diet of some 250 shows per year, then relies heavily on residual word of mouth.

So that’s how they do it, but just what is it that they do so well? Before the band had even taken the stage, the tapestries and rugs that adorned the performance area suggested a jam-happy vibe. Then again, drummer Brit Turner looks like he just walked off the set of Duck Dynasty and guitarist Paul Jackson bears an uncanny resemblance to former WWE superstar Al Snow, so who knows?

Not surprisingly, turns out the Atlanta, Georgia boys are a little bit country and a little bit rock ’n’ roll. And what they lack in dual guitar, harmonized fretboard fireworks that other such Southern rock outfits frequently showcase, they more than offset with healthy doses of blues.

Tunes like “Rock N’ Roll Again” faithfully capture the raucous barroom bluster of the Black Crowes’ “Jealous Again,” for example. The anthemic “Up in Smoke” is another standout.

Zep fans were teased with a few bars of “10 Years Gone,” then later treated to a full-on course of blistering, Mississippi Delta-soaked “When the Levee Breaks.”

But truth be known, this Smoke is at its best at its most ethereal. With keyboardist Brandon Still leading the way though a Hammond organ-driven interlude, “Sleepy Dogs” turned almost trancelike as singer/six-stringer Charlie Starr coaxed melodic guitar lines into dreamy feedback and the house lights danced off his see-through ax. The relative calm would soon subside into a raucous cover of the Allman’s “Midnight Rider,” only to revert back to the original tune from whence it all began.

Quite a ride, and one that Valley folks can enjoy in their own back yard as Blackberry Smoke wafts into Noho’s Pearl Street (iheg.com) Sept. 10.

In other news ... where there’s smoke … and KISS.. and Pyromaniacs Def Leppard, for that matter, there’s certainly fire. And there were plenty of incendiary devices—and blood, hairspray and tongue-wagging—when the two multi-platinum classic rockers descended upon Hartford’s Xfinity Theater Aug. 10. Def Lep took the stage first, reminding the crowd just how deep their hit catalog runs as they alternated between chestnuts like “Bringin’ On the Heartbreak” and fist-pumpers of a later era like “Armageddon It” and “Rocket.”

The band utilized the smooth groove of title track “Hysteria” to give a nod to the co-headliners, breaking into a snippet of the KISS hit “Beth.” Show closer “Photograph” proved a high-impact affair on all fronts, full of energy, perfectly executed and featuring rolling collages of photos from the band’s entire career, including images of the now-deceased guitarist Steve Clark.

“We’ll see you next time, and there will be a next time,” singer Joe Elliott declared. “You don’t forget about us, and we won’t forget about you!”

While the twin bill definitely generated more excitement—and ticket sales—than KISS with a lesser-known opener (as they did last go-round about a year ago), it definitely proved a double-edged sword for the KISS Army in that the setlist, drum and guitar solos and more had to be cut. In fact, frontman Paul Stanley later declared that due to an impending curfew time, the band would forego the part where “we go back stage, you yell really loud, then we come back” in an effort to maximize the music.

On the flip, what with a break since the last leg in the tour and not having to scream his brains out for 2.5 hours, Stanley is in particularly fine voice these days. There were not many setlist surprises aside from the relatively obscure 1989 tune “Hide Your Heart.”

And bassist Gene Simmons appeared visibly upset when some sort of mechanical issue prevented him from ascending to the ceiling for his “God of Thunder” feature. But he spat his blood and licked his bass with his tongue a few times and all seemed right with the world again.

 

Last but not least, be sure to catch dozens of area favorites, including The Winterpills, Fancy Trash, King Radio and more, as they hit the road less traveled when Transperformance XXIV: Off The Map comes to the Pines Theater in Look Park next Tuesday, Aug. 26. Visit northamptonartscouncil.org for details.•

Send correspondence to Nightcrawler, P.O. box 427, Somers, CT 06071; fax to (860) 394-4262 or email garycarra@aol.com.

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