Review by Fred Rudofsky
Photographs by Stanley Johnson and Gene Sennes
“I have actually been invited,” I thought to myself, echoing the astonishment of Nick Carraway when he arrives at Gatsby’s West Egg mansion party in Fitzgerald’s novel. My magnanimous friend, Alison, had given me an advance ticket to the J.B. Scott’s Reunion Party. Pulling into the already crowded parking lot shortly after 7pm, I couldn’t help but realize that I would be likely one of the few revelers too young to have ever attended a show at the legendary venue that had closed 30 years ago, having drawn everybody from Count Basie and John Lee Hooker to the Cramps and Iggy Pop.
I had missed the Penny Knight Band, and the Last Conspirators were already playing full throttle as I entered the ballroom of Michael’s Banquet House, where a large crowd of people danced like it was 1979. The late Joe Strummer would have been proud; I imagined the punk rock warlord raising a Guinness to the band as they tore into originals like “Who Wants a Revolution Anyway” and “History,” the latter beginning with Tim Livingston’s declaration of “Drink to all our futures! Long live J.B. Scott’s!” and then closing out with his microphone stand getting bent in half.
The Ernie Williams Band paid tribute to their late, great leader with a moving set that included favorites such as “The World I Used to Know” and “Searching for Salvation (In these Hard Times).” Joe Mele and Mark Emanatian’s guitars like eagles soared above and beyond the room. Rather than a lament or elegy, each song was an affirmation of Albany’s Ambassador of the Blues. I swore I could hear the raspy laughter of approval from Ernie (yes, yes, yes).
Mr. Doug Jacobs himself, the venerable co-owner of J.B. Scott’s, strode onto the stage. Beaming with gratitude to the boisterous response of the crowd, he introduced his daughter, Alison “Ali Jean” Jacobs, who had grown up (some had rumored) in the club, soaking up the sounds of all the great blues, rock and soul acts that once had made Albany part of their itinerary. With tremendous backing by Ted Hennessy (harp), Matt Mirabile (guitar), Bobbie Van Detta (bass) and Andy Hearn (drums), she performed a set of electric blues, warning the sea of dancers to “Treat Her Right” because she was a “Voodoo Woman” who didn’t need a man “telling her what to do.” “We’re going to boogie at midnight!” she declared, channeling the spirit of Roy Brown’s ode to good times and smiling as each musician gave a rousing solo.
During the intermission, eddies of patrons flowed around, reuniting with friends, cameras and cellphones flashing, sharing stories that often evoked tears of laughter and a clink of bottles and shot glasses.
To a mighty roar, Mr. Vinnie Birbiglia, the co-owner and visionary booking agent of J.B. Scott’s, introduced Blotto, who played something good with a little help from their friends. To the delight of many, Jeff Roberts and Tom D’Ambrose of the Sharks’ horn section, saxman Bill Rella of the Morons and Jim Furlong of the legendary AD’s joined in, too. Classics like “Elevator Music,” “Driver’s Ed Movie,” Bobby Womack’s “It’s All Over Now,” “Goodbye Mr. Bond” and an exuberant “I Wanna Be a Lifeguard” had the room galvanized. Raising his guitar pick in the final chords of the set, Broadway Blotto hollered to the band’s beloved late bass player, “Goodnight, Cheese! We love you and miss you!”
Fear of Strangers, led by the irrepressible Val Haynes and guitarist Todd Nelson, hit the stage with gusto. Song after catchy song had the crowd cutting a rug; originals held court with a superb rendition of the Beatles’ “I’ll Cry Instead.” The engaging harmonies and hypnotic bass line to “Volts” closed out the set, despite the crowd’s cries for an encore.
A donation jar quickly made the rounds to help Carolyne Mas, a semi-regular performer during J.B. Scott’s heyday who had fallen on hard times.
The night flew by. The Lazers played a set peppered with covers from yesteryear, including hits by Pat Benetar, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts and the Talking Heads. The Charlie Smith Blues Band rounded out the night after-hours style, each stinging note from Smith’s guitar reminding the crowd of the ache and joy of memories, the faces and the conversations and dreams of youth, tears welling up and yet smiles exchanged all around.
Dave Suarez has a whole bunch of photographs at Dave Suarez Photography
Real George’s video of Fear of Strangers’ at J.B. Scott’s Reunion
Real George’s bonus track video of Fear of Strangers at J.B. Scott’s Reunion