Blues Revue

March 03, 2008 | BY Kay Cordtz
APRIL / MAY 2008 Issue

Chris Bergson Band - Rodeo Bar
New York City - Jan. 10

It takes a confident musician to pack his band with some of the hottest players in New York City, but singer/songwriter/guitarist Chris Bergson is equal to the company he keeps.† On this night, he shared the foreground of a tiny stage with saxophone wizard Jay Collins and Bruce Katz (a Pinetop Perkins Piano Player of the Year nominee at this year's Blues Music Awards). The star power was anchored by drummer Diego Voglino and electric bassist Tim Luntzel, who shared their crowded space with cow skulls, a black velvet Elvis and a gigantic buffalo head in front of a packed house of cheering, whistling fans.

With his shy grin and mop of unruly hair, Bergson might remind you of your high-school boyfriend ñ at least until he straps on his shiny, red Gibson and steps up to the mike. Starting with the rocking ìGowanus Heightsî from his recently released album Fall Changes, the young virtuoso took charge of the stage. He growled out the vivid lyrics about Brooklyn street life and launched a series of dazzling flights of fancy on the guitar, playing as organically as if the instrument were a third arm. On 'Latitude,' a song about coming to grips with compromise, Bergson's raucous guitar was the sound of ambivalence, like an argument where no one gives in. The first set also featured a few selections from the bandís 2005 record, Another Day, including the moody title song, built around a spooky sax-and-guitar riff that moved between minor and major keys. The beautiful 'High Above the Morning' brought a guitar solo, thrilling enough to make you cry, while 'Greyhound Station,' about searching for artistic inspiration, showcased Katzís soulful organ playing. Eyes closed and head thrown back, he catapulted the audience through several aural universes in a few brief moments.

Bergson showed off his Delta blues skills on the ominous 'Three Sisters' and the Mississippi Fred McDowell-inspired ìRain Beatiní Downî from the new album. With only Voglino playing softly behind him, Bergsonís sensual slide guitar brought home the conjugal feeling as vividly as his passionate lyrics. The room hushed for 'Sanctuary,' a love song embroidered by Katzís tender piano and Collinsí provocative sax. On Collins' 'The Engine,' the band hit its explosive peak, Bergsonís slide threatening to careen out of control like the relationship described in the song. Driven by the drums and Luntzelís tough bass groove, Katzís piano burst forth as if he had been building up to it all night.

The band had fun with covers like Dylanís 'When I Paint My Masterpiece,' and John Prineís 'Sweet Revenge.' Another highlight was the Otis Redding chestnut 'You Left The Water Running,' with Katz cooking on organ and Collinsí sly, playful baritone sax. Side-by-side shouting by Bergson and Collins was perfect for this funky classic, showing how two rough voices can make for a sweet and soulful sound. The energy level didn't drop as the night progressed: Bergsonís last solo of the night on Freddie King's 'The Stumble,' covered on his 2003 album Blues was just as fresh, inventive and fired-up as the first.