Monday, December 14, 2009

Coco Montoya at the Crystola Roadhose

Here'a review of Coco Montoya I did for the Gazette that appeared in their Soundboard section December 13th 2009:


It takes alot more than a bad PA system, a cold, and an amp acting up to mess with Coco Montoya, the fiery blues guitar player whose band played at the Crystola Bar and Grill Saturday night. But throw in one adoring fan who kept heckling Montoya about songs to play on top of all the other things going on, and it might have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. But I have a theory that adversity drives emotions that when channeled through the hands of a master blues player with a Fender strat can alter the time space continuum.

The blues may not be your thing. But to the audience packing the sold-out roadhouse, this was the next best thing to nirvana, despite a few minor annoying setbacks. Opening with “Back in a Cadillac,” a classic up-tempo 12-bar blues number with staccato accents and power fills by Montoya featuring the first of several breaks with keyboard Brant Leeper handing the audience powerful leslie organ riffs, the band had to stop moments into the song when a microphone wasn’t coming through right. After a few awkward moments and an apology from Montoya, they took it from the top and made the audience forget all about the earlier false start.

“I Need Your Love In My Life” — a rocking number with southern party-blues feel to it featured solid lead guitar work from Montoya. A funky drum intro opened “Women Have A Way With The Blues,” waking the audience up to the fact that Randy Hayes on drums is somebody not to be messed with. Heavy-handed with smoldering blues riffs demonstrated Montoya’s background as an Albert Collins protégé. The notes were tight and succinct with little of the tonal clutter characteristic of less-worthy guitar players masking over their deficiencies.

A series of numbers followed mixing up tempos and blues approaches, some slow with Montoya playing slide, some featuring Montoya and Leeper mixing it up between organ fills and searing guitar riffs, and at one number with a syncopated “second line” backbeat to it straight from Bourbon Street that evolved into a party rock blues number that had the dance floor packed and everybody bouncing up and down. A nod to Montoya’s former boss John Mayall followed with “Have You Heard About My Baby” that many people may associate with Eric Clapton’s guitar work, but Montoya clearly owned this tribute leaving people asking “Eric who?” as Montoya mercilessly sawed away at his guitar.

Since every review and biography I’ve ever read makes a big stinking deal about how the left-handed Montoya plays his guitar upside down (literally: a right handed neck strung for a righty turned over on a lefty strat body so the bass strings are at the bottom instead of the top), I’m not going to dwell on it. I think watching a blond woman in the crowd of dancers slow dancing with a post kind of said it all!

A boogie-woogie organ solo from Leeper opened “Tumbleweed,” adding in turn some heavy drums from Hayes, thundering bass from Nate Brown, and Montoya grinding out some heavy swinging blues riffs over it all had everybody eating out their hands. At the next song break, while we had already had a few interruptions from one fan shouting out song titles, now everything stopped while Montoya had a back-and-forth with them about them being annoying. After a few protracted moments, Montoya responded the best way he could by just grinding ferociously through the next couple songs totally blowing away the weird vibe that arose during the pause.

After a set break, Montoya played an amusing song featuring little guitar riffs made to sound like what you’d hear through the walls in a cheap motel while a husband and wife argued. Everybody was still laughing while the band churned into a heavy version of “Just Like Me” and through a couple more numbers. The big finish was Albert Collins “Put The Shoe On The Other Foot” used as the basis for an extended jam featuring a jazzy bass solo by Nate Brown and a thundering drum solo by Randy Hayes adding some more searing blues work by Montoya to close out the night.

All-in-all, a great night for fans lucky enough to get a ticket on the Coco Montoya blues train.