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Blues at the Crossroads w/ Big Head Todd and the Monsters @ Potawatomi Bingo Casino

March 4, 2011

Mar. 7, 2011
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If blues is best experienced communally,Friday's "Blues at the Crossroads"tribute show at the Potawatomi Bingo Casino's Northern Lights Theaterwas a successby that criterion alone. The music's cathartic joy was palpably felt both on the stage and in the seats.

Never mind that the touris supposed to be a tribute to that most storied of bluesmen, Robert Johnson.Not much of his repertoire wastouched by the assembly of acts Friday. Instead, Johnson contemporary/survivor David "Honeyboy" Edwards, Hubert Sumlin, Michael Frank,Lightnin' Malcolm & Cedric Burnside andthe evening's de facto house band, Big Head Toddand the Monsters, celebrated the genre's history, with an emphasis on therole of the guitar in it all.

Malcolmcame off as mostvolubly appreciative of the work of the man the tourintendsto celebrate. An extra large, youngwhite dude witha Mississippi drawl as deep as his smile is wide(read: very),he spoke ofreacquainting himself withJohnson's work on the tour bus. Assayingnumbers by Johnson influences Son House and Willie Brown, his National steel guitar playing was incisive and his voice was resonant with an admirable moaning quality. He and hislankier singer/drummer duo partner Burnside worked up a froth of funkiness that made for one of the night's many times one might have wishedNorthern Lights was better equipped for dancing.

Burnside, the grandson of legendary trance bluesman R.L. Burnside, often acted as second drummer alongside the Monsters, behind the bevy of singers and players.Doubling up on that instrument gave much of the night's music a New Orleans second-line rhythmic feel.

Big Head Todd frontman Todd Park Mohr, not especially noted as a blues playerin his day gig, acquitted himselfrespectably, from openingwith anacoustic reading of "John the Revelator"to joining everyone with a voice to spare on "Wang Dang Doodle" not longbefore the encore.

The major, even historical,draws of the "Crossroads," however, were old-timers Edwards and Sumlin. At95 and 79 respectively, both needed to sit down—Sumlin with an oxygen tank—before doing their things. But once they did, Edwards'serpentine and Sumlin's more gregarious charms shone through about as strongly as if they were playing a South Side Chicago club a half-century earlier.Frank's harmonicasupport of bothveterans added an enticing wheeze to the surfeit of plucked, strummed and bent strings.

It's safe to call "Blues at the Crossroads" a success—even if Johnson was a bit lost in the shuffle.

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