‘MontBlues’ — Fabulous T-Birds, Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio

Larry Sabo / Tahoe Onstage

Kim Wilson and the Fabulous Thunderbirds treat Lake Tahoe to a night of authentic blues, on Saturday, Oct. 14, along with pals Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio.

The MontBleu Casino Resort & Spa Showroom could well have been renamed the “MontBlues” Showroom on Saturday night.  A packed house was treated to an evening of veteran blues musicians doing their thing with style and aplomb for a highly appreciative audience.

The evening kicked off with Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio taking three chairs at the front of the stage and laying down a life’s work of raw blues for an hour. Add some comedic interaction and humility for good measure and it felt a little like rolling up to a ranch and finding these dudes lighting up the big wrap-around farmhouse porch. All that was missing were Ball jars with moonshine and some fireflies.

Michael Smyth / Tahoe Onstage

Elvin Bishop’s Big Fun Trio: Bob Welsh, left, Bishop, and Willy Jordan.

Many fans, of course, showed up to hear Bishop play “Fooled Around And Fell In Love,” which the trio obliged after Bishop remarked having “some hit about 100 years ago.” Truth is the rest of the set, played basically free of effect save for what these men’s hands could produce, outshone the song that put him on the general public’s map.

I don’t have a lot of theories about life, but get the hell back out before the people stop clapping is one of ‘em.” — Elvin Bishop

Bishop was simply a player alongside the talents of Bob Welsh’s piano and guitar skills along with Willy Jordan’s soulful vocals and percussion, which he presented exclusively on a cajon. The crowd came to its feet as the set concluded and, in a mild surprise, the opener returned for one last swampy blues number as Bishop quipped, “I don’t have a lot of theories about life, but get the hell back out before the people stop clapping is one of ‘em.”

The patrons had just enough time to refill their drinks as The Fabulous Thunderbirds took the stage. After an opener to get the sound mix fine-tuned the rest of the night belonged primarily to front man Kim Wilson’s vocal and harmonica chops, showing off exquisite breath control with various Hohner harps. The cutting licks emanating from Johnny Moeller’s guitar, as he repeatedly stepped to the front, injected the edge to marry with Wilson’s shrill notes.

Both were heavily featured in the evening’s second offering along, with a little keys solo from Kevin Anker. The song set the tone for a set that was nicely balanced with changing rhythms, including a cover of Jerry McCain’s “She’s Tough” that features a moment of pause and then an old-timey, show-biz chuckle before completing the last line of the chorus. The song spoke to the experience and comfort exuded by both the Thunderbirds and Bishop’s Trio as each performance was smooth, unhurried and delivered with the confidence of artists who’ve been doing it for a lifetime.

The T-Birds also satisfied the hit seekers with their signature hits “Tuff Enough” and “Wrap It Up,” but in my opinion the night belonged to the three instrumentals, which really showcased each member’s abilities. Steve Gomes’ fluid bass lines were a tight counterpoint to Wes Watkins’ speed and precision on drums, with the latter being featured on a tune that found the band, except for Wilson, exiting midsong to leave drums and harp together for a lengthy up-tempo jam until the rest returned to bring it home. “Whew,” Wilson exclaimed while wiping the sweat from his shaved head, “that’s a tough one at this altitude!”

The only thing that would have made this evening at “MontBlues” better is if perhaps some of the tables up front had been taken way. There was no question that a lot of people wanted to get up and dance and there simply wasn’t room. The show the Thunderbirds brought certainly lent itself to moving and grooving and I think the band would have preferred it, as well. That quibble aside, there was no question everyone exited to the casino floor happy and ready to continue the party.

-Michael Smyth

Larry Sabo / Tahoe Onstage

Johnny Moeller has held the prestigious role of guitarist for the Fabulous Thunderbirds for several years.

Larry Sabo / Tahoe Onstage

Wes Watkins plays drums with speed and precision.

Larry Sabo / Tahoe Onstage

Kevin Anker solos on the keys for the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

Larry Sabo / Tahoe Onstage

Fluid Steve Gomes on bass.

Michael Smyth / Tahoe Onstage

The Fabulous Thunderbirds pose for a portrait after their show at MontBleu on Oct. 14.
Michael Smyth / Tahoe Onstage

About Michael Smyth

Michael Smyth moved to Reno in 2007 after living more than 40 years in the Bay Area. In addition to going to live shows, he enjoys golf, skiing and fly-fishing. Check out his website https://michaelsmythmedia.com/

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