Stella Blue’s Band Comes to Brooklyn by Gary Blicksilver

A Tale of Two Slides –

Stella Blue’s Band Comes to Brooklyn

By Gary Blicksilver   Photos by Sharon Budman

 

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Actually, Stella Blue’s Band (SBB) came to Brooklyn twice!  Not content with only doing a mid-week show at Brooklyn Bowl on Wednesday 9/7, they returned (after a few days elsewhere on the road) on Friday 9/10 to the Steeplechase Beer Garden on Coney Island.  Why pick one when you can go to both?

At Wednesday’s Brooklyn Bowl show, the band was full-strength at 7-pieces, with Bill Bonacci on lead guitar, Steve Liesman on rhythm guitar, Greg Solomon on bass, Ken Aigen on keys, Ron Cohen and Chuck Black on drums, and Marc Loponte on vocals. Due to a previous commitment with his first band Crimson Rose, Marc was in Coney Island in spirit only on Saturday.

 

Brooklyn Bowl opened with “Feel Like A Stranger” and the house was dancing.  “Here Comes Sunshine” came next, followed by “Next Time You See Me”, with Marc doing the blues thing on vocals.  “Dire Wolf” led into a cover of Dylan’s “Queen Jane Approximately”.  “Loose Lucy” and the Weir/Barlow penned bySharonBudman2“Cassidy” kept the crowd on its feet and at their conclusion we got the briefest of ‘important announcements’ – “we’re gonna play a long one then take a short break” and then the band launched into the classic pairing of “China Cat Sunflower” into “I Know You Rider”.  First set, and a strong one at that, was in the books!

For the second set, SBB opened up with a rocking “Sugar Magnolia”, followed by an on-fire, but Fire-less “Scarlet Begonias” (Deadheads – you know what I mean).  Then they worked into “The Music Never Stopped” and on to “Lazy Lightning”. 

A Tale of Two Slides, Part 1:  As the band next went into a cover of Jerry Garcia Band’s “Don’t Let Go” (itself a cover of the Jesse Stone/Roy Hamilton tune), I heard what sounded like a slide guitar.  Trouble is, I didn’t see one on Steve Liesman’s finger – not a glass or metal tube anyway.  Apparently improvising for missing gear, Steve managed to rest a white Bic lighter between his fingers and add that distinctive string-blending sound to the tune.  Well done, Steve, well done!

Check out the full gallery of photos by Sharon Bdman here.

A short drum bridge took them into “I Need a Miracle”, followed by “Going Down the Road Feeling Bad”, which ran back into “The Music Never Stopped”.  An encore of “Box of Rain”, with Marc and Ron sharing vocals, completed SBB’s first night in Brooklyn.

– – – – –

Before Saturday’s show, I spoke with several members of the band about this new found, albeit temporary, life on the road.  These guys are used to playing a few nights a month, not a few nights straight.  They said that while they were looking forward to a quiet Sunday, none gave any indication they were even remotely tired from the road trip.

I had a chance to speak to drummer Chuck Black about the tree care business he took over from his father – passionately telling me about the “mulch tea” he brews which effectively replaces the soil nutrients that fertilizer kills and rake-happy gardeners take away at fall’s end.bySharonBudman

I also chatted with keyboardist Ken Aigen who’s an Associate Professor of Music Therapy at NYU.  He shared how he performs research on the therapeutic benefits of music with neurologically impaired people.  Having a father with Parkinson’s disease and a nephew with Autism, I gave him my heart-felt thanks.

By the time Stella Blue’s took the stage at Steeplechase, Sunday was less than an hour away.  The first of 2 full sets opened with “Greatest Story Ever Told”, with Steve on vocals.  “Here Comes Sunshine”, a cover of Dylan’s “When I Paint My Masterpiece”, “Deep Elem Blues”, “Big River”, “Cold Rain & Snow” and “West L.A. Fadeaway” took us past midnight.

A Tale of Two Slides, Part 2:  A couple of nights later, a different part of Brooklyn, and Steve is playing with a more typical metal slide on “My Brother Esau”.  That’s it…that’s the part 2!

The first set closes with “Let It Grow”, and the band takes a quick break to catch their collective breaths.  This gives me a chance to gather my thoughts on Bill…I don’t know if it’s the time of day (around 1:00 AM), or the black “fading dead logo” T-shirt, or even the Wolf inspired triple humbucker guitar, but in my mind Bill is really channeling Garcia tonight, even to the point where his vocals sounded strangely familiar.  I can think of worse places to be.

The second set opened with “Shakedown Street” – one song, Dead or otherwise, that I never tire of.  “Man Smart (Woman Smarter)” by calypsonian Norman Span, aka King Radio, followed.  Then after a quick setlist substitution, the purpose of which was to “keep ’em dancing”, the band broke into “Brown Eyed Woman”.   A nice rhythm devils from drummers Ron and Chuck segued into “I Need a Miracle”.  The Garcia ballad “Standing on the Moon” was more than appropriate on this early morning 9/11 anniversary.  “Throwing Stones” and with the crowd doing their part and clapping in step, a long “Not Fade Away” closed the second set.  Remembering the show started the night before, the band encored with the traditional “One More Saturday Night”.

Tonight’s gig in Coney Island had been billed as an “after-show” following Widespread Panic at the new Ford Amphitheater, just down the block.  By the time SBB decided to call it a night, and left the stage, it was hard to tell who among the crowd had come to see Panic, or if Stella Blue’s was the main attraction.  So be it!

Thought this is a different show, we feel that this review could use a sound track!  From the Stella Blues youtube channel:

 

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