“It’s so good to be back with our family!” exclaimed Popsy Dixon early during the Holmes Brothers’ highly-anticipated show at Club Helsinki. The feeling was mutual, as the jam-packed audience, ages 5 to 70, long-time fans and newbies, filled the dance floor throughout the night to enjoy a rousing mix of blues, soul, country and gospel.
The Holmes Brothers – featuring Dixon (drums) and brothers Wendell Holmes (guitar and keyboard) and Sherman Holmes (bass) – were perennial visitors to the previous incarnation of the venue in Great Barrington, as the club’s owner pointed out on Saturday in Hudson. Understandably moved by the ecstatic introduction and sheer beauty of the new place, the band opened with “Amazing Grace,” which showcased the hallmarks of their sound – charismatic lead singing, telepathic harmonies and impeccable musicianship – and followed it with a rollicking “Do Lord, Lord Remember Me.”
For more than two hours, the Holmes Brothers mixed an eclectic array of originals and covers. Jimmy Reed’s “Big Boss Man” roared like a Cadillac with Wendell Holmes blurring the lines between rhythm and lead on his blonde Telecaster. Sherman Holmes delivered a jaunty “Close the Door” from 2007’s “State of Grace,” which showed off the deep Virginian roots of the band; “Feed My Soul” (the title cut of their latest on Alligator Records) and “You’re the Kind of Trouble” featured uplifting harmonies and a nod to the influence of Curtis Mayfield and Solomon Burke respectively. “He’ll Have to Go”, the wry, country torch song, had Wendell conjuring the sounds of a steel guitar, bringing couples of all ages out to waltz, as did the new original “I Saw Your Face,” which featured a moving vocal turn by Sherman.
Shifting gears, the band brought roadhouse funk and astounding chops to “Got Myself Together,” and transformed T-Bone Walker’s “Stormy Monday Blues” into an uptempo romp with Popsy Dixon’s ethereal falsetto on top. With Wendell sitting down at the electric piano, the band brought surprise and delight to the crowd. The Beatles’ “I’ll Be Back” got a funky back-beat treatment, while Cheap Trick’s “I Want You to Want Me” became a mesmerizing ballad for Wendell’s sublime keyboarding and testifying, punctuated by keen “Didn’t I?” refrains from all three singers. “Since I Lay My Burdens Down” had the crowd clapping and spilling out on to the dance floor, and a superlative rendition of Ray Charles’ “Come Back Baby” had Wendell exclaiming, “I’ve got the blues tonight!” during an extended solo. Switching back to guitar, Wendell launched into an original, “Edge of the Ledge”, from their latest which addressed the economic woes of the sub-prime mortgage fiasco-decade with the humor and pathos that only the blues can encompass: “I lost my job/ They repossessed my bed!”
The final stretch did not let up. The Beatles’ “And I Love Her” from “A Hard Day’s Night,” was a tour de force performance, featuring a soaring falsetto from Popsy. An old favorite dating back to their early days at Dan Lynch’s in NYC, “Hey Now Baby,” rocked the dancers to their core. “Please Don’t Hurt Me”, from the band’s 1989 classic debut “In the Spirit,” transformed three voices into one soulful entreaty.
For encores, the band reached deep into their gospel roots, bringing joyous abandon to “Jesus Is on the Mainline” (“If you had a good time, say it right now!” the band declared, with the crowd responding “I had a good time tonight!”) and offering an extended prayer – with a hummed melody, “like we do it back home” – to see everybody again, “May God Be with You (Until We Meet Again).”
When the Holmes Brothers return to Club Helsinki – may it be soon! – be sure to get a ticket and see for yourself why they are arguably the best band in the nation. In the meantime, do yourself a favor, and spend some Yankee dollars on any of their superb albums.
Review by Fred Rudofsky