How much did I drink? Well, let me tell you! I hit the port-a-jon at one point and took a nice, long piss. The port-a-jon immediately caught fire in the warm California sun. If BAL can be linked to PAL, you know I was Funkin' Druck! Yep! I realized at that point it was time to cut back in the interest of all involved and get the problem solved, so I did what any self-respecting music fest fan would do. I switched to light beer! Call me overzealous!
But that's a story for later. After the princess of all Blues Tickets (in the form of mi amiga Tracy) and I claimed our turf in front of the Hibachi-Hot stage, our VIP Platinum Passes paid for themselves, as the beer began to flow like wine, and the wine began to flow like beer, and my mind shed nary a single tear as the PA system kicked on and a high whine was all we could hear. Let's see, there was me, that being your Droog-in-Chief, Kneumsi, Tracy, of course, G.G. and Georgia, bluer than the third feather on the NBC symbol, and the coup de grace, Melissa and Little John, rounding out our blue gang of six. And though the other four didn't realize, we were accompanied by one Frank Harvey, a giant, talking rabbit that only I can see and hear. Tracy took his presence on faith... and wine.
You ever see a show in which the opening act should probably have been the headliner? I haven't... until now. Je parle a The Otis Clay Band, a pure Chicago Blues Band from nowhere else but Chicago itself. Every piece was passionately proficient, from the horn section to the seated yet completed drummer, to the finger-dancing pianist, to the straight driving bass player. Those alone could make the band worth a stand, but when the man himself, Otis Clay took the stage, that's when jaws dropped and eyes widened, in spite of the glowing sun. Clay's voice is a soaring triumph, perfectly mixed with the sort of Illinois Blues that Jake and Elwood would dance to behind their cheap sunglasses. The brass-players swung as Clay raised his hands and his voice over the crowd in a silky song soliloquy, purely blue, and purely passionate. Now that is a band, and one of the best all around shows I'd ever seen, but this is all without mentioning The Otis Clay band's MVP, a circus act on the Six String, a blues axe-man named Walter Scott. If you think that Sir Walter Scott can write English Literature, you should hear him play that geeeetah, Amigos! There's a skill to playing Bluesy lead guitar, and Scott has it nailed. His tasteful jazzy solos and down-home leads (even when a string broke) made every subsequent guitarist that day all but disappear! Best of all, Scott knew when to break into a lead and when to compliment the rest of the band, when to play faster than a Blues Barry Allen, and when to pluck out each note as clear as Clay's own voice. From standards and favorites to newbies and rarities, I have only three sentences to leave you with relating to the Otis Clay Band: "See this band. See this band! SEE THIS BAND!" YYYYY
One great thing about me is that no matter how drunk I get, I still remember every second of every binge. One really terrible thing about me is that no matter how drunk I get, I still remember every second of every binge. If anyone can truly attest to this, it's those true friends who scraped me off of the floor of the Dave and Buster's Bathroom in Irvine, California back in October of 2004. To those of you... thank you... and keep your damned mouths shut! Still, it gives me the ability to review a show, even when drunk. And that paid off during the break between shows, as I took a refill (or 30) and wondered aloud (and loudly... to strangers) how the eff-you-see-kay they could top the Otis Clay performance.
Well, topping it wasn't the plan o'course, but Guitar Shorty did take the stage, and didn't want to give it back. Not that we minded, seeing as how Guitar Shorty was the only act of the day that I could imagine sitting for a listen to their jam without interruption for a whole week. He and his band had that wall-o-blues sound nailed, and yeah, Shorty could play. In fact, the one thing he wasn't short on was Guitar! The band started the show without him, but with both great sounds and a witty banter that brought the man to the stage. With his long, greased curls, black hat and dark glasses, there was little doubt what he did for a living. It was either Blues Guitarist or Security Guard at a Sci-Fi convention. He gave one hell of a blues review (revue?), with a Buddy Guy smile and an eye to the professional, and his music was more ambient than direct. He didn't make a mark of uniqueness, like many might have, but proved his belonging in the line-up with the best of the blues. YYYY
After last year's solar probe and the twelve months of skin-grafting and chemotherapy that I went through to recover from the dermal abuse Mr. Sun meted out to me, I was still an idiot during my half-visit to Ozzfest this year. So, being almost recovered, I must give my biggest thanks to L.J. and Melissa for sharing with me their Ozone-Layer complimenting sunscreen, which I practically bathed in (much to their optical disgust). And I got my money's worth (like my ticket, the sunscreen was free to me). How much sunscreen did I splash on? Well, let's just say that at one point an Imperial Stormtrooper, in all white armored regalia, popped out from behind the bar, raised his coal black laser rifle and shot me square in the cheek bone, and all he managed to do was piss me off! That's a butt-load of screen, babies! (Incidentally, it was during this break, after more beer than Wisconsin, that I accidentally set afire the latrine between my ethyl-rich urine and the sun's rays, but you know that story).
It was also time for Johnny Rawls to take the stage! This was good because... that was... the time he was scheduled to perform. However, he actually took the stage to tell me to shut up because at the time I was loudly telling the obnoxious story of how I kilt me a bar when I wuz only three. He and his granddaughter didn't like it. Damn it. But I liked what he and his granddaughter had to say. Rawls isn't your typical LBBF performer. Neither Delta Blues nor Chicago Jam, neither Gospel Blues nor Orchestral Jazz/ Blues, Rawls was more the pop-oriented singing soul you might pop into the old stereo-bone to woo women. And with his strong voice and excellent band, I'm pretty sure this would work. Rawls never seemed like he had the blues, with his big smile, and the presence of his granddaughter gettin' down on that tambourine. His show really took off when his granddaughter took a break and his daughter grabbed the microphone for a rich and soulful song session with Daddio. Her voice is positively beautiful. What's more, this gave Rawls the chance to get down on his own red Fender Stratocaster (complete with an unexplained sticker reading "Mustang Sally"... with a circle and a slash over it). He's got a knack with that fret board, all right, and that rapid-fire staccato blues lead that makes a solo so recognizable simply belongs to big John when that Strat takes flight. Otherwise, at various times the band sounded like they might be just as comfortable performing the theme song to Car Wash, or, alternately, jamming on an original composition by Chef from South Park (the words "Make Sweet Love" were as abundant in the PA system as particles of alcohol were in my breath). It's fun blues, it's popular, main stream R&B... but that ain't so bad, chilluns! YYY1/2
There was a purple haze in my brain, and without my buddy Mike Owen to help me make decisions, I figured it was time to stagger up to the front and get a bird's eye view for the next show. I mean, I was drunk, but I could still appreciate the need to be as close to Bobby "Blue" Bland as possible without being arrested by Long Beach's Finest (they were still looking for me because of operation kerosene excretion). How drunk was I by this point? Well, I sure would like to say "not very", but... dudes, was Count Dooku REALLY there? And did I really light-sabre duel him to a standstill before he rocketed away in a solar sail ship to gift his master with the plans to a planet-spanking space station? I'm going to assume that yes, that did happen. Look, folks, I didn't drive, so leave me alone!
Okay, forgetting that potential delusion, along with that of the Smurf Village I'm pretty sure I saw (and the unexpected appearance of the ghost of Sunny Von Bulow urging me to "get them... GET THEEEEEEEEEEM!"), it was time for the bluest of the blues singers, Bobby Bland. The title "World's Greatest Blues Singer" is probably better deserved than that of "The World's Greatest Critic", but I... uh... ahem... shouldn't have said that... Anyway, Bobby "Blue" Bland has the velvety voice that made him famous, age be damned. Commonly seated, Bland offered up that laid-back form of Chicago-style blues (that dominated the evening) at its very best. If anything Bland looked tired and burned out, which is all the more remarkable from the precision of his voice and the underlying passion of his delivery. His Blues-Perfect voice, with its trademark (almost belching) growl, took a back seat to his excellent band at the right time, even to the point that he held aloft his microphone for two separate brass solos, which I thought was selfless of him. The combination was as tasty as fudge-covered-bacon. Blues was workin' through that imperfect vessel of Bobby Bland that day, belching growl or no belching growl, and Bobby was anything but bland. Sorry folks, I can write reviews drunk, but I can't promise my puns and metaphors will be all that original at the time. Sue me, I don't own jack crap! YYYY1/2
I decided to stay put for the band I came to see, a band I've been into since their first album trampolined up the MTV Charts like an exploding glow stick back in some strange combination of Yesteryear and Yore that I refer to as "My High School Years". And they're one of the few bands of that Era I'm not ashamed of having been into. Yep, I love me some Black Crowes! Of course, it wasn't just the impending appearance of The Black Crowes that kept me in the front row, it was the fact that I had a fence to hang on to, steadying my balance against the nonexistent breeze that still threatened to bowl me over! Sadly, the Crowes were too busy being Rock Star Primadonnas to grace the stage on time! Also Godzilla, Ghidra, King Kong, Gigantor and Robert from Everybody Loves Raymond were working security that day, and they enforced the Crowes' mandate that we all step away from the Fence. Yeah, I mean, this is the Long Beach Blues Festival! I can see how they might be in some severely nightmarish danger of having a fucking fedora thrown at them or something. Shit!
In spite of the fact that the Roadies took longer to set up the stage than it takes an overweight exotic dancer to strip, the sound was as far from perfect as an overweight exotic dancer is from being attractive. The Black Crowes are one hell of a Blues Rock band, but this particular performance felt a lot more rock than blues, and a lot more concerned with being loud that with sounding great. Nobody loves music louder than me, but a solid mix is as essential to a great Blues show as those eleven herbs and spices are to the Colonel's Fried Chicken. It wasn't there. Chris Robinson's voice was all but drowned out by brother Rich's guitar, proving the rumors of rivalry right there on that stage, and it was easier to hear me scream "Get off my foot you Birkenstock-wearing douche-bag!" to the stooge next to me than it was to hear the keyboards over the drums.
But still, I looooooooooooooove me some Black Crowes, and while they weren't perfect, they were still great to see. The sing-a-long of "Sting Me" was a great uniter to the crowd, and some of the more obscure, yet equally infectious grooves had all of us in the standing-room up front jumping like Yoda! And you know that this rocker would be front row and center reaching past Enormo for some fist-pumping approval.
Much of the time the gang didn't sound much like a Blues headliner at all, but more like a '70's era British Blooze outfit, a la Rockin' the Filmore-era Humble Pie, or a proto-metallic outfit like Foghat. They dressed like it too, especially with Chris Robinson's ripped jeans, western shirt and bushy-ass beard. I kept thinking, dude, this guy gets to see Kate Hudson naked? Indeed, and our boy still had that dance/ pose to go with the roiling rock that kept us all moving. There was a definitive level of showmanship on the stage in image and movement, but the sounds didn't quite make it evenly through the PA system as the other acts' had. The other guys didn't need to be jealous again of the Black Crowes.
Still, when they got it right, they most certainly got it damned right. Some of the more mainstream hits of their catalogue were left out in favor of the album track favorites that kept them popular after their MTV days. Selections like Otis Redding's "Hard to Handle" and their own "Seeing things for the First Time" had me screaming along to the great lyrics and sounds, while "Twice as Hard" and the closing "Shake Your Money Maker" kept the arms raised as high as the voices. For me, personally, it was the ultimate highlight to be front and center for my personal favorite, "Remedy", in which the Southern Harmony really was a Musical Companion to the unified sound. It was a standout in an overall distorted show. While these true masters of the blues might have made a few better choices to headline a day that included such primarily Chicago-oriented acts as Otis Clay, Guitar Shorty, Johnny Rawls and Bobby "Blue" Bland, they still got me excited and glad to see them. Truly, they much more resembled Cameron Crow's fictional band Stillwater in their look, sound and delivery (insert Kate Hudson Full Circle reference here). And, since we're on the subject, yes, Kate Hudson and the Swiss-Baby Robinson were both on the stage in waiting for Chris and the gang to hop, skip and jump their blue way off the stage and into my review. YYY
If "Blues is Blood", there may have been a little Leukemia in the mix that day, because one of my favorite bands was possibly the biggest disappointment, and the only part of this overall incredible lineup that I wanted a little more from. Still, they were the only band whose CD I took home at the end of the day, and that's an endorsement in and of itself. Muddy Waters once said that the Blues had a baby and its name was rock and roll, so even with the overly Freak and Roll set of the Crowes, it wasn't inappropriate, and they were well worth seeing. When the KKJZ announcer grabbed the stage and said "I think we've taken it to a new level!" I can only imagine he meant in Volume. Insert Spinal Tap comment here.
This, coupled with the ironic lack of any true "Delta" blues ("ironic" in that nearly every band mentioned and pleaded for the victims of Hurricane Katrina), led to a desire for more, but with what I would call probably the best all around lineup since I've been going to this Fest, I couldn't ask for much more! Overall, the whole thing was incredible, and I wouldn't trade a second of it, but like I learned when I posted the "Kill Kneumsi" South Park-influenced picture of me as a Corpse, you gotta know your audience. In the "Ruining it for Everyone" category, forgive me, folks, because I don't think that the VIP beer will be free next year. You think we've got a Gasoline Shortage right now? You've got to find the Beer Shortage to be a maddening crisis in the coming weeks, thanks to me. That, the battle with Count Dooku, some Stormtrooper gunning for me, the spectre of Sunny Von Bulow still haunting me, and, of course, my accidental arson of the outhouse, next year will be quite a limited edition thanks to the World's Greatest Critic. Damn. Sorry. So, until next year's Long Beach Fest is headlined by the "Blue Man Group" because technically they do represent a kind of Blues, I'll see you in the next reel. Now, if you'll excuse me, my mom, dad, wife, daughter, aunt, uncle and the ghost of W.C. Fields are pounding at my door, demanding an intervention. Let me finish my beer first, Please!
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