Johnny Winter and James Cotton’s appearance at The Egg was a legitimate “check-off show” – that is, a concert that lets hard-core music fans check one name (or, in this case, two names) off the list of legends they’d like to see perform live. The show was also a do-over, as the original date was postponed due to health reasons… and frankly, it was hard to tell which performer caused the cancellation.
The 67-year old Winter was hunched and frail as he walked onstage, his face half-hidden by a black, wide-brimmed hat. Cotton came on and off stage under his own power, but the 75-year-old Hall of Famer did a post-set CD signing from a wheelchair. Both players sat for their respective sets, and Cotton needed ex-Ronnie Earl sideman Darrell Nulisch to handle all the vocals because Cotton’s voice is effectively gone. But while neither player was anywhere near his best, they each had the ability to make the capacity crowd holler their brains out.
Although Cotton can’t sing, rest assured that “Mr. Superharp” can still blow ’em down. No matter which harp he chose from the array next to his chair, Cotton could still conjure up the wailing, nasty sound that blows musical pretension to smithereens. He kept it hot and true for an hour-long set of standards like “Rocket 88” and “I Got My Mojo Workin.'” Cotton even got inspired during “Who’s Loving You Tonight,” croak-shouting, “I got the BLUES this mornin’!”
Winter speaks more than he sings nowadays, but even in his prime, his singing voice was secondary. What really mattered was his ability to turn a guitar into an angry chainsaw that channeled Jimi Hendrix through a Freddie Krueger aesthetic. Winter’s still got it, and in spades. Blues classics like Hendrix’s “Red House” and Sonny Boy Williamson’s “Good Mornin’, Little Schoolgirl” snarled like hungry dogs, and the array of tunes from Winter’s classic album “Captured Live” went for the throat just like they used to. Winter also took time to nod to his contemporaries, tossing “Sunshine of Your Love” into the middle of “Schoolgirl,” and then referencing “Third Stone from the Sun” during the encore “Highway 61 Revisited.”
One song in Cotton’s set was a bluesed-out take on “Things Ain’t Like They Used to Be.” That may be true for Winter and Cotton, but for one evening, their present was good enough.
Review by J Hunter
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk