The Austin Chronicle

Live Shots

Reviewed by Christopher Gray, July 20, 2001, Music

Bobby Blue Bland, The Blues Specialists

Victory Grill, July 14

It was only a matter of time until the fire marshal showed up. The poor woman at the door, fanning herself with a "reserved" placecard, said, "You're from the press, you tell 'em we're packed and I'm about to fall out." With every available inch of space occupied by some human body part, visiting the bar required an odd Discovery Channel dance, like a sidewinder turned on end. In greatest demand were, naturally, buckets of ice. Flasks tipped, Panama hats bobbed, bodies brushed against each other for nearly two hours as Austin's Blues Specialists put forth a Hammond-soaked clinic. Featuring timeless Third Coast jukebox staples ("Things That I Used to Do") and originals from last year's plush N2Deep alike, the quintet's set created such a steamy, succulent atmosphere it really did seem like it could've been 40 years ago at the Eastside speakeasy. Even sweeter was long-limbed 'n' lanky guitarist Gary Clark when he got up for a few numbers; his sure-handed, steely technique demonstrated a connection to soul music far past his calendar age, which couldn't have been 25. One refrain nailed it: "Ain't too much wrong a good shuffle boogie won't cure." Sadly, one thing a good shuffle boogie can't cure is extreme overcrowding. Sure enough, here comes the fire marshal shortly after 11pm, prompting a situation where standing customers are asked to exit in order to count those seated. (Damn sight cooler outside, even a nice breeze.) This gambit worked well enough to secure Bobby Blue Bland at least some stage time, but with its maximum-occupancy load set at a baroque 101, the Victory Grill was pretty much a goner. So, a half-hour of robust, round-eyed rhythm & blues from one of the last living links to a bygone era is better than none at all. Particularly here, because Bland was in much better voice than his Antone's appearance of several years ago, his band was lean and tight, and a few goosebump-raising tenor sax breaks came from C.J. Johnson. The septuagenarian Bland stepped it up a notch for his first-in-many-moons visit to the club he made a second home while stationed at nearby Fort Hood; he also knew the situation around him, remarking "There ain't no place for you to go, is it?" after a stretched-out "Every Day I Have the Blues." One or two more and there was a place to go: home. "I know you don't like it," Bland acknowledged. "I don't like it either." Sudden ending and all, the night was hardly a total loss, though. It was, if nothing else, a sweltering reminder that the price of blues is most often extracted in sweat.

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