Reviews > Shows
Bruce Katz Band, Byron’s, Pomeroy, IA – 6/20
Photo by Roger Feldhans
Long-time Relix readers may remember “Byron’s Got The Time,” a tune by Chicago’s Family Groove Company that was featured on a sampler disc several years ago. To spare the backstory, let’s just say it all started here, at Byron Stuart’s bar in Pomeroy, Iowa, where the Bruce Katz Band recently played for the first time in front of a packed house. And in this nexus of tie-dye and tractors, a century’s worth of music was spun into something fresh and colorful.
Pomeroy is a progressive, somewhat conflicted poster child for the future of small-town Midwestern living. For all the accoutrements of a farm town with less than 1,000 regulars, Byron’s is the rainbow-hued heart of the city’s nightlife. With a multi-year project in progress to actually tie-dye the building, the Dead Bears dancing on the storefront sign are calling card enough for now.
It could be said that the BKB’s calling card is the blues/jazz hybrid they have been perfecting for years. Forced to diversify when bassist Rod Carey suffered a debilitating back injury in 2009, Katz has manned up, running the band as an organ trio. Covering the deep end using either his left hand- which is just fine, believe me- or by using a Hammond B3 with bass pedals when opportunity allows, there were times when his walking lines were so locked with drummer Ralph Rosen that it was hard to fathom the simultaneous intensity of his solos. Or how his melodic, Lesh-inspired runs sounded, well, quite Lesh-like opposite the stellar work of guitarist/vocalist Chris Vitarello.
Watching Rosen on the opener, an original called “Switchin’,” he literally bounces from surface to surface, attacking with the right gravity, and shuffling with a true master’s swing. Experiencing the telepathy these three share is like watching lovers who double as dance partners. This is where you realize that youth, as in lacking seasoning, toils under a disadvantage.
“Night of Joy” followed, a signature of the Katz canon. A New Orleans-style piano blast, by now everyone’s noticed the tight unison lines that Vitarello and Katz have honed with each other. It should be said that Vitarello is one of the most truthful guitarists you will hear today. He’s like a chef who doesn’t just approximate flavors. What you get is authentic, international fine dining, but with the flair of someone who respects the art enough to let the tastes bleed together into new combinations. Which is only befitting for a band that does this on a corporate scale, as Katz and Rosen are pushing and pulling with Vitarello constantly.
The original “Just an Expression”, a fushion-tinged funk, led into the ABB’s “Trouble No More” and a full dance floor. Next was the masterpiece of the first set, where the band simmered before setting the room on fire. Drawn from his days with Ronnie Earl, “Contrition” turned into one of those performances that can only be described as “deep blues.” By the time the trio had wrung the last bit of irony-free soul from the form, they simply melted it down until band and audience were all profoundly moved. When the plaintive chords of Traffic’s “Pearly Queen” started stirring the crowd sweet and soft, people literally jumped onto the dance floor again once the verse busted free. And there they stayed, through blues shuffles and jazz kickers that had intelligence, heart and unfaltering grooves.
Into set two, Katz and Co. offered their second Allmans effort with a beautiful “Dreams.” Despite being a member of Gregg Allman’s band, as well as a frequent guest with the Brothers, there seemed to be extra pleasure for Katz in doing this song with his own band. Invigorating was the surprise cover of the Family Stone’s “Sex Machine,” as well.
Other highlights included two piano-centered songs in a night dominated by the sounds of the B3. Both originals, “Norton’s Boogie” is the kind of barrelhouse key-killing that built rock & roll; and “Victoria,” a ballad for Katz’s wife, could have been on many Blue Note masterpieces from the Sixties. Between Rosen using his bare hands for a softer dynamic, the souljazz guitar, and a repeating piano figure, the tune proved hypnotic.
“In our van, we have a picture of Muddy Waters, a picture of Jimmy McGriff, a replica of the George Jones tour bus, and a Johnny Ramone bobblehead. How appropriate to end with Muddy and Jimmy McGriff, and next time we’ll have a Ramones cover for you!” With that, the trio ended with Waters’ “I Want To Be Loved” and McGriff’s “All About My Girl”. Needless to say, should you get a chance to catch this trio, they come highly recommended. Much like the jamband forefathers, the BKB plays music that is the harvest of seasons past, while sowing the Future through the Now.
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