Nothing makes a concertgoer happier than getting the blues for Christmas.
That’s the view of a jovial crowd on Saturday, Dec. 22, thrilled with the presence of four headliners on one stage – Tommy Castro & The Painkillers, Tinsley Ellis, Eden Brent and Curtis Salgado – for the Mont Blues Ball 2 at MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa.
More than three hours into the show, a stagehand had to signal Castro that it was a wrap, and the musicians took a final bow. But everybody wanted to keep going. So goes the Christmas blues. There is, however, already plenty of snow to guarantee a white Christmas.
The first Mont Blues Ball was held in the fall, and like the second it was a heavily improvised affair with well known, talented blues players, Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio, Marcia Ball and Roy Rogers & The Delta Rhythm Kings. Music lovers can wish for MontBleu and Devildog Promotions to make a New Year’s resolution to keep the Mont Blues balls rolling.
“I don’t know how this came about, but I am glad I am here,” Salgado said.
Alligator Records artists Ellis and Castro have made a combined 38 albums, and last November, for the first time, they joined forces for a T‘N’T Tour. They alternated going on first or second. Ellis is from Atlanta and Castro is from the Bay Area, so on Saturday Castro and his band were the headliners. “This is Tommy’s territory,” Ellis said before the show.
Ellis has played North Shore several times in the past decade, but it was just his second appearance at South Shore. He opened the show alongside drummer Erik Kaszynski and bassist Kevan McCann. The seven-song, 45-minute set featured songs from Ellis’ earlier to latest records. The highlight was the quavering “Saving Grace,” one of the gems from his Alligator comeback albums, “Winning Hand.”
Why Ellis isn’t revered like fellow Southern rock guitarists such as Derek Trucks and Warren Haynes is a mystery, but he is exalted by his peers. The two aforementioned players brought Ellis to join them for a song at the very last Allman Brothers concert.
Next to the stage was Tommy Castro & The Painkillers. The always-smiling Castro has as much stage presence as any bluesman, save for maybe Buddy Guy. And he backs it up with upbeat musicianship on his guitar and soulful vocals. In recent years, he’s changed his sound by removing a horn section.
During the set, which included histrionics from charismatic bass player Randy McDonald, the music switched styles enough to call it singular, something every artist wants. If any blues purists disapproved, it was impossible to detect because everyone was smiling along with Castro. The reflective “My Old Neighborhood” from his latest album “Stompin’ Ground” was most inspirational.
Speaking of charismatic, Eden Brent is a showstopper. It’s no wonder that she is an International Blues Challenge champion, an achievement that requires musicianship, originality and especially a fantastic rapport with the audience. She has a captivating Mississippi drawl and plays boogie-woogie piano. Her vocal style is in the vein of Bessie Smith. Brent played most-appropriately selected tunes from her new album, “An Eden Brent Christmas.”
Salgado is one of the planet’s greatest soul singers. He has a penchant for collecting Blues Music Awards and defying doctors’ fatal prognosis. He’s survived cancer twice, had a liver transplant and in 2017 underwent quadruple bypass surgery. Salgado was John Belushi’s inspiration for his Joilet Jake character in “The Blues Brothers.” He blew the crowd away with a voice as strong as ever, especially with cover tunes by O.V. Wright and Little Milton.
Salgado, Brent and Ellis were all onstage for a final jam. Salgado played harmonica and Brent sang along. During a cover of Elvin Bishop’s “Rock Bottom,” Castro and Ellis traded solo guitar licks before harmonizing and walking in step toward the front of the stage. It was the last show together for the two veteran bluesman, who clearly reveled in their collaboration.
After the show, Castro said eight of the songs played that night had never been rehearsed. And that he wanted to play another song — much like someone who doesn’t want to put away his Christmas toys and go to bed.
— Tim Parsons
- MontBlues 2
Tommy Castro & The Painkillers, Tinsley Ellis, Eden Brent and Curtis Salgado
MontBleu Resort Casino & Spa
Saturday, Dec. 22, 2018
- Tinsley Ellis
Sound of a Broken Man
Cut You Loose
Devil for a Dime
A Quitter Never Wins
Doubled Eye Whammy (Freddie King)
- Tommy Castro & The Painkillers
Make it Back to Memphis
Too Many Bad Habits
My Old Neighborhood
Can’t Keep a Good Man Down
- Eden Brent
Boogie Woogie Santa Claus
Merry Christmas Baby
Someone Else is Steppin’ In
- Curtis Salgado
Don’t Let My Baby Ride
Little Milton cover
O.V. Wright cover
You’re My Girl
Rock Bottom (Elvin Bishop)
Them Changes (Buddy Miles)
Hit it ‘N Quit it (James Brown)