Monday, August 06, 2012

Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer, Kim Simmonds, The Palm Theater, Las Vegas, NV August 5, 2012

I am usually very hesitant about seeing any of my heros after they have passed their hey-day - I refused to see the Who after Moon died, I didn't care to see the Dolls after Thunders passed, etc. I got free tickets to see the Rolling Stones in 2002 and went, even against my better judgement, and was sorely disappointed. But, I did see Neil Young & Crazy Horse in 2003-ish and it was amazing, so you never know. I've been listening to a lot of Johnny Winter since I've gotten on my blues kick and, by extension, Edgar, so when I saw that they were touring together - along with Derringer, who is another talented player who worked with both of the brothers, and Kim Simmonds (from Savoy Brown), who I have also just started listening to, I figured I'd take the chance.

The night began with Simmonds, obviously the lesser-known member of this entourage here in the States. But he definitely had his fans in the audience, cheering and singing along with the Savoy Brown tunes. He had a great guitar tone, was still in good voice and was highly entertaining.

Leslie West was supposed to follow but cancelled due to illness. Hope he's ok - hard to tell with these cats who are getting up in the years and Leslie was never the picture of health. But, Derringer came on and rocked the place immediately with "Still Alive and Well" which he wrote for Johnny Winter but has become a staple of his own set. Rick proved to be born-again as he changed some of the words to things like "Jesus is still alive and well". Pretty funny but not overly preachy. He threw in a couple of new songs, including one about being an American which he says Hillary, Obama and even Newt Gingrinch have used! I didn't recognize it, myself. A spot-on "Hang On Sloopy" was included and he closed with, of course, "Rock'n'Roll, Hootchie Koo", during which he really let go on the guitar for the first time during the set, showing that he has not lost his licks!

After a short intermission the first Winter brother, Edgar, appeared on stage, ably back by the band who had been working with everyone that night and who were all high-caliber players. He opened with a couple of numbers that I was unfamiliar with, but that were good blues/soul-rockers (not any of the fusion failures that he has attempted in the past). He did a terrific "Tobacco Road", with his trademarked vocal/guitar sparring (and without the extra long jam from his live album), a great job of "Frankenstein" (playing sax, keyboards and drums), some White Trash-era soul jam and closed with Derringer joining him for "Free Ride". Edgar was in fine shape throughout - he looked great at 66, his voice was in good form (though missing some of the  highs) and he played every instrument just as well as ever, all while being a showman. Pretty damn amazing!

The headliner for the night was, naturally enough, Johnny Winter, though when he came out, he looked so old and frail (at only 4 years older than Edgar) and small (I swear that he is a foot or more shorter than he used to be) that you would expect to see him shuffling through an old folks' home rather than on stage at a r'n'r concert. Unfortunately, his playing has also deteriorated and his voice, while not bad, is nowhere near the strength that it once had. He played plenty of blues, including early tracks such as "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" and his Stones' cover "It's All Over Now" before being joined by the whole crew from the night for a rendition of "Jumpin' Jack Flash" (another standard from his 70's set). He finished up with a couple more tunes before returning for an encore of "Dust My Broom" with his first use of his trademark Firebird guitar and slide and wow - what a difference! Tonally, it was a huge improvement from the headless Erlewine Lazer guitar (which is smaller, lighter and short-scaled, presumably to make it easier for Johnny to play), and his slide work sounded fantastic! But, his final number was "Highway 61" and he did not have a fraction of the slide speed that he once did. I'm glad I was finally able to see the man, but I wish that I could have been there in his prime.

Although it would have been cool if some sets could have been a bit longer, it was nice to have the entire show finished by a little after 10:00pm and home in bed at a reasonable hour. While Johnny is certainly no longer at the top of his game, the rest of the gents proved themselves ably. A fun night with a lot of enthusiastic fans of the blues!