Thursday, January 28, 2010
Johnny Neel and the Criminal Element
Tonight was the long awaited return of The Criminal Element after what appeared to be somewhat of a break. Knowing that they have been making their third record during this hiatus made me exited to hear some new stuff. They were slated as the second of three bands playing at Exit In, so I figured it wouldn't be the usual improvisation-fest, but I knew that they would bring it.
As I arrived, the first act, Shawna P and the Earthfunk Tribe, were getting their set started. While I stood at the bar, she sang a slow number with her acoustic guitar player, thus inspiring me to go see what was going on backstage. Then while I was back there, I heard her band fire up and put on what appeared to be a smokin' set. I guess I missed it.
Johnny Neel and the Criminal Element came on and got right to it with their crowd blaster "Damn Right", setting the tone for the rest of the set. For a band that hadn't played a show since October and haven't officially rehearsed in their years as a band, their undoubted chemistry and talent allowed them to get up there and play like they'd been on tour for weeks. Moving on in the set, they played what ended up being the only new number of the night, "Sum of it All". I guess they're saving all the new ones for the CD release party. It was cool to see Johnny and Guitarist Randy Boen converse back and forth musically on this song even though Johnny can't see. This is actually a unique thread that runs through this band, including Russell "Damn" Wright and Curt Redding on bass and drums respectively. They have an incredible ability to improvise and follow Johnny's lead and keep up with his ever-changing, rapid fire curve balls. After a rockin' version of their ode to whiskey "Mikey" and "Go", they invited Shawna P back up for a slightly disorganized and obviously unplanned cover of Bill Withers' "Use Me (Till You Use Me Up)". Shawna was indeed a great singer and the song went over pretty well. They ended the set with the ballad "Playin' On the Tracks", which started like a lullaby and ended like a raging tent revival before morphing into another spur of the moment choice, "Immigrant Song". It was a fun show, although it was way too short for these guys to really showcase their love for improvisation and other criminal shenanigans.
The night's closer, Casme, was a lady r&b singer, with a 10 piece back-up band including black chick background singers (which I always love), a horn section and a couple of keyboards along with the guitar, bass, and drums. This was a fun band to watch with their lady dancers and their swaying to and fro. Casme was a pretty good singer but didn't even come close to Shawna P. I guess it was as close to a J-Lo show as I will ever get. They seemed pretty green to the whole "playing shows" thing as indicated by their poor staging etiquette. Moments after the end of the Element's set, all 12 of them were crowding around the stage with their gear before the guys could even get Johnny walked off. They then proceeded to just stand in the way while the Criminals tried to maneuver a timely breakdown. I mean for a three-piece, it's not that big of a deal, but if you're gonna roll with 12 to 15 band members, just wait a damn minute for the previous band to get out of the way. No one's in that big of a hurry to see your bush league band. Just an observation.