Review by Greg Haymes
Photographs by Stanley Johnson
Were you “Tuff Enuff” to brave the rain for the Fabulous Thunderbirds?
The inaugural Alive at Five concert of the summer season got off to a mighty soggy start, and despite the best efforts of the concerts series organizers to try to get the show in before the sky opened up – the T-Birds took the stage 20 minutes earlier than the usual headliners’ start time – the blues fans in Albany’s Riverfront Park got soaked with a never hard nor heavy, but always steady rain from the moment frontman Kim Wilson launched the band into the opening “Wait On Time” straight through to the show-closing encore of “I Want to Believe.”
Wilson and his current incarnation of the T-Birds focused on tunes from their latest album, “On the Verge,” marking a distinct shift away from the blues and venturing into a deep soul groove that balanced equal influences from Memphis and Muscle Shoals. “Lovin’ Time,” “Runnin’ From the Blues” and the slinky slow grind of “Lonely Highway” emerged as some of the new album’s most potent selections, and the crowd roared with delight during the latter when Wilson moaned the lyric, “It’s a lonely stretch of highway, and the rain is pouring down…”
Given the weather situation, it’s understandable that it appeared to be one of the smallest Alive at Five crowds ever, and the audience – a sea of colorful umbrellas and ponchos – continued to dwindle as the concert – and the rain – continued.
Fueled by dueling guitarslingers Johnny Moeller and Mike Keller who exchanged hot-wired solos throughout the concert, the new five-piece Thunderbirds line-up acquitted themselves well on older MTV-era nuggets like “Tuff Enuff” and “Wrap It Up,” as well as the more recent material.
And Wilson’s voice was in prime condition, seemingly better suited to the more soulful attack than the band’s tried-and-true blues assault. Or maybe, it was simply that the material was fresher, more vital and engaging for Wilson – the band’s lone founding member – who’s been singing some of these songs now for nearly 40 years.
Wilson’s strong suit, however, is his harmonica playing, and he didn’t disappoint, wailing through “Early in the Morning,” tag-teaming the Hammond organ for a surprisingly effective horn-section sound on “Lonely Highway” and finally pulling out all the stops for a dizzying, seven-and-a-half minute unaccompanied jump blues harp howl.
And it was great to see Troy’s powerhouse trio Super 400 back in the saddle again as the evening’s opening act. With bassist Lori Friday still recovering from a serious car crash two years ago and the more recent birth of her baby girl (just two months ago), Super 400 has all too rarely found their way onto the stage lately.
But they were definitely primed and ready for action last Thursday – their first gig since January. Not only did Friday, drummer Joe Daley and guitarist-vocalist Kenny Hohman doling out muscular blues-rock gems like “Blast the Message,” “Needle Down” and “Green Grass End,” but also counterbalancing the heavy end of the musical spectrum with a batch of new, melodic, more pop-oriented songs that allowed Friday to shine as a vocalist.
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “But this T’Birds edition, with only showman-singer Wilson aboard from the original 1974 original crew, may be the most capable and versatile yet. Always more about the sizzle and the swagger than the songs, they impressed with new tunes from On the Verge that seemed stronger than their vintage shuffles and simple blues that had seemed hastily constructed as frameworks for solos. They soloed plenty, especially guitarists Mike Keller and Johnny Moeller and Wilson himself, using repetition and insistence to light up simple, strong harmonica riffs. Hats off to drummer Jason Moeller and bassist Randy Bermudes, who laid down grooves deep as canyons and made it look almost too easy. The T’Birds impressed most with their unity and, surprisingly, their songs. Early on, ‘Too Much Water’ plumbed deep regret, and Wilson followed with ‘Runnin’ from the Blues’ — both new and both strong. The new ‘Got to Bring it With You’ was no letdown after the powerfully persuasive, familiar ‘My Babe.'”
NOTE: Alive at Five organizers aren’t about to make the same mistake twice in a row. Due to the impending weather, tomorrow’s (Thursday, June 13) Albany’s Alive at Five concert – featuring former Kool & the Gang vocalist JT Taylor and Local 518 faves the Ill Funk Ensemble in the opening act slot – has already been moved from Riverfront Park to the rain site, the Palace Theatre. Doors open at 4pm; the music starts at 5pm. And, as always, admission is free.
THE FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS SET LIST
Wait On Time
Too Much Water
Wrap It Up
Runnin’ From the Blues
Early in the Morning
Got to Bring It With You
I Want to Believe