Theodore Blues, Brews, & Barbecue hosts the Balkun Brothers at Theodores Blues, Brews, & Barbeque by Jimm O’D

It’s a good thing Theodore Blues, Brews & Barbecue is only like, a twenty-minute drive for me. I had to go there two nights in a row, Friday and Saturday last weekend. Yes, I ‘had to.’ Two bands, two nights, two trips, and no sweat. Now, if it had been Burlington… that’d be another matter, even for award-winning bands like the Balkan Brothers and Neal & the Vipers.

I hadn’t seen Neal & the Vipers in a while; I was due. They’re still a recent discovery for me- for ME i say; they’ve only been around for like thirty years. But their usual stomping grounds (or storming, more like) are in Rhode Island or into Connecticut; to get ’em in at Theodore’s is like a must and a plus together. Besides, Theodore’s. Because Theodore’s. Ain’t nowhere else like it.

The Balkun Brothers came to Worthington Street in Springfield Saturday night. Now, this really had been a while- like, years. Last time I’d had the pleasure was right here at Theodore’s which was pretty exciting- my first shot of their super-high energy was at a festival up in Maine- speaking of a long drive. Another time or two at Infinity in Hartford and where-ever-the-hell-else it was, were all back before they made a big change in their line-up.

Both of these bands were every bit as awesome as before- of course.

When I saw that the Balkun Brothers were this year’s winners for the Connecticut Blues Society’s Solo/Duo Challenge, I naturally figured I knew what was up with that. Sure, the band I know is a power trio, but it’s all about the Brothers. Their long-time bass player (or another) is just… well, you know- he ain’t a blood-kin Balkun, that’s all. So, since the Brothers are two, the band is categorically a duo.  

Imagine my surprise, then, when the two of them took the stage tonight at Theodore’s- the TWO of ’em. It wasn’t hard to detect this detail, of course; a glance was all it took. A double-take quickly followed, however. My ears were deceived by the distinct NON-absence of a low end. However he makes it happen, older brother Steve Balkun, a luthier besides being the  guitarist extraordinaire that he is, holds it down plenty well with no discernible loss or sacrifice to the sound- take it from a humble scribe who has seen the band a good number of times, albeit not in some time. The Power Duo thing came as new to me. And I like it.

Nick, the drummer and younger brother, is also a technician in his own right, though in more behind-the-scenes capacities. He can tweak knobs as well as bash the skins with the best of ’em. The producer-caliber engineer handles the Balkuns’ recordings in his local studio. They both sing as well as write, and they’ve been doing this together plenty over the years and through a number of releases. The outcome of all this is a proverbial well-oiled machine, or two of them working in tandem, fully fluid in all their raucous rocking-ness.

These boys are nothing if not loud, and plenty proud about it. Take you some Sabbath and some Zeppelin, holding to roots in the blues, and toss in an element and an attitude of grunge; carry it all around the country by way of Seattle before settling back to New England- Connecticut, to be specific- and then trot the whole thing out for steadily increasing numbers of Balk-heads. 

Most of the Balkan Brothers’ stuff is originals, and the influences from decades past, 50s rockabilly and 60s psych thru 70s-style FM rock and the waves of the 80s, well tempered with the sensibilities of the times since, make for a rousing mix of meshed subgenres within the umbrella of rock. Cool thing is, this is certainly a sound the young-uns’ll dig, and the full-bodied body of tradition infusing and informing the hard-rocking result is equally respectable for the audient of any age.

Of course, some of the stuff is more suitable for the less chronologically advanced. One of the many originals started with a seemingly spontaneous, stripped-down jam with just Nick’s drums complimenting the ‘bass-ic’ sounds from Steve’s ‘Strattish-looking’ baritone guitar. He has several axes at hand, all designed and built just as just-about-perfectly as his playing. It progressed thru progressions and moved thru movements going everywhere from fusiony-funk to a novel combination of rappish vocals and hip-hop-ish stylings, finally morphing into the yet-to-be-named Thrash Funk genre.

Covers are in the minority in the Balkuns’ set-list; and really they’re versions or treatments of the boys’ personal preferences. A humble scribe was fortunate indeed to start the recorder early in a Zeppelin tune and catch its’ surprise segue to a Who track. This IS the stuff.

As it turns out I hadn’t seen the Balkun Brothers in quite some time- years even. They’ve been coming around a lot less lately- not since they were a trio, in fact. No wonder I was surprised…. not shocked, mind you, not so much by that anyway. Some of their sounds can be pretty shocking, that’s for sure. Tonight’s repertoire was perhaps a bit more diverse than expected- ain’t nothin’ wrong with that!  While no less true to the Balkuns’ basic mission of carrying blues music into new crossover contexts, hopefully plugging-in some new constituents along the way, Theodore’s was treated to a fine mix and balance tonight.

Anyone who hasn’t experienced the Balkun Brothers… well, you know whatcha gotta do.