The Kings with James Montgomery – Whalley Park, Southwick MA 14 Aug 19 by Jimm OD

This is an EVENT, I do believe! There ain’t a whole lotta bands around the Western Mass area would pass muster to play with a blues master like James Montgomery. Valley veterans FAT, sure; they’ve been buds forever; and particular favorite guitar-slinger John Clark, having been part of the James Montgomery Band for some number of years, was always welcome to show up, sit in, or join for a gig here and there. Last time this humble scribe had the good fortune to hear and hang with Dynamite Johnny was at that show with James and his band, way out at that roadhouse in Central Mass.

So, how does it happen that the Kings and James Montgomery get to join up for this one-time (so far?) Blues review…? A mutual friend, of course. Vermonter John hires these folks for his parties, including one or more of the Kings (Jeff, anyway) at various times. Said feller is also hitched-in with folks down around Southwick Mass, where they put on a series of concerts at the ample and awesome Whalley Park. Connections were made between synapses first, then terminals most likely, and finally the humans involved, and wee slice of local history is being carved even now.

“Well,” the star stated backstage between bites of mac & cheese, “I guess we’re gonna see how this goes…” I don’t think he was too worried, though; not really. And now here we are, half-a–dozen numbers in, and the whole thang be jellin’ just fine. James is as ‘on’ as ever, and the kings are cookin’ in a Blues mode. A bit of video at the start got cut short, but we captured the entrance at least.

After a couple of numbers warming up and one very minor glitch, very quickly dealt with and dismissed, we got rolling with a few words of tribute for the late great Paul Butterfield, followed by “Born in Chicago” done the Butterfield way. “Messin’ with the Kid” followed, sharp and smooth, and the ol’ boy brung it down low and then fired back up to a jammy pace, with our local heroes synching right along in energetic sympatico.

This is NOT one of those things where the audience stays planted on their butts and just watches- not by a long shot. Many were up and dancing as soon as the Kings started their opening set; and after an actual “short” break, the entire open space was easily filled and spilling out the sides, with the rest of the some-hundreds present all spread around grooving by their tables and over their victuals.

Outdoors is a great place for this soiree, with perfect weather and a nice, early weeknight show. Mister Montgomery proved an excellent host and bandleader, swiftly issuing advisements to the band and integrating a few of those hand-and-arm signals that look to the layperson like part of the enthusiasm. He even bowed out for one in the middle of the set so that the Kings’ lovely lead singer would hop back on stage for “Son of a Preacher Man.”

Not too long after, Melissa returned just to dance with the man. This visual embellishment did no harm whatsoever to the overall effect; in fact I’ve seen James Montgomery a half-dozen times and he’s never looked better- even back in the day, at the Rusty Nail, with his old band and big, black ponytail. Best of all, of course was that everyone was clearly having a great time. Never once did I notice any of those stinging glances or looks of consternation that crop up when a band is mis-matched or the star is an arse… no such here; it’s all good for all.

That techno-glitch mentioned earlier became something of a burr under the saddle for the band. Or, more accurately, for James – his mic cut out a few times. Still no scowls or cusses, though; y’know what that venerable pro and his pack of merry pranksters did…? After the first time, it came as much less a surprise. Immediately upon blankout, the bandleader would turn and whip the band to a heightened climax and clobber out an extended ending to the song at hand… OR- and this is the impressive part.

I’m pretty sure the wiley ol’ James Montgomery was continuing to test his mic under the voluminous cover of the ratcheted-up musical melee, and if it kicked back in before they’d actually brought it to a close, then he would just keep the jam going and lead into the next number.

I am not at all sure that most folks were even aware of this ongoing issue, so smoothly was it handled by this pack of professionals. The first frenzied finale might have been a tad rough, but after that it was all taken in stride and well in hand, harp and all.

Whether the last song was stretched out to damn near fifteen minutes as a way to blast through while all systems were go, or the Stones’ “Miss You” was gonna get that treatment anyway, who’s to say? I suspect the latter, however. And great fun it was, as Maestro Montgomery directed the solo sections all around the stage in turn.

Tom Coburn’s piano chops were just freakin’ awesome; I think James himself was pretty impressed. The band’s guesting sax-man (or newest member?) had been in just the right places at all the right times throughout the show. Richie Skye’s soaring, fusiony guitar riffs are always a treat, and no less so for having them framed in this more old-school blues format, and Jeff King pumped out one o’ them bass solos that commanded the atmosphere for a few minutes and then settled back while still persisting, so that the overall outcome was a melding of sounds and a smooth transition back into the full band setting.

One might have noticed, though, that not only was drummer Ed Balon left out of the round of solo sections, but his usual role as lead singer on this Stones’ number was unequivocally usurped by the visiting celebrity. Who the hell does that James Montgomery dude think he is, anyway!?!

Good news: I got the whole thing on video. That last song, I mean. All fourteen minutes of it. Not-so-good news, however… well, you’ll see… I was shooting into the light.