Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
NICK MOSS BAND, KEVIN PURCELL & THE NIGHTBURNERS
Blues on the Prairie Concert
October 3, 2014
Prairie Center for the Arts, Schaumburg, IL
by Greg Easterling
photos: Airshots Photography
photos: Airshots Photography
The recent Blues on the Prairie Concert starring The Nick Moss Band plus Kevin Purcell and the Nightburners is an excellent example of just how large the big top has become for the blues. Both artists are well schooled in Chicago’s hometown musical art form but choose to interpret their Windy City blues roots in uniquely individual ways.
Kevin Purcell -- bandleader, singer, songwriter, harp player -- opened the show; he toes the blues line a little closer stylistically but not slavishly so, blending elements of Southern Rock into his energetic live show. The Nightburners lineup usually includes a fiddle player (on this occasion James Sanders) which precipitates some nice instrumental duels with Kevin on harp. The engine room of drummer Pete Kruse and Tony Root on bass can shift gears from an easy shuffle into overdrive at the drop of a hat. Add guitarist Don Laferty plus keyboardist Bill LeClair and you’ve got a jammin’ band.
No stranger to tradition, Purcell’s set list included covers of Son Seals (“Bad Ax”) and Howlin’ Wolf (“Killing Floor”) but featured mostly original songs. Highlights included the show opener “Leave This Town” and late in the set, “Callin’ Me Home”. The Nightburners also played several songs from their latest CD, Beyond The Storm, including Shake ‘Em On Down,” “It’s Not Love” and “Goodbye Baby.” That CD was inspired by the band’s journey to Memphis to compete in the 2013 International Blues Challenge against hundreds of bands from around the world. The band succeeded amidst the stiff competition, winning a place in the final round of 10 bands.
Headliner Nick Moss and his talented band – guitarist/vocalist Michael Ledbetter, keyboardist Taylor Streiff, bassist Nick Fane, drummer Patrick Seals -- have pushed beyond blues basics, as well, and into more classic sounding rock territory. Moss’ recent Blue Bella release Time Ain’t Free features a variety of strong new originals that wouldn’t sound out of place on your local adult rock station. On this night, the band premiered two new songs, inspired by today’s headlines, and the audience gave both numbers two thumbs up.
Moss has acquired a reputation for guitar excellence, a point driven home repeatedly during his Blues on the Prairie concert. He expertly showcased a variety of styles, from psychedelic blues-rock to fingerpickin’ Delta style and North Mississippi trance to good old Chicago blues.
He sings well, too, but these days Moss shares lead vocals and the occasional songwriting credit with Michael Ledbetter whose soulful, soaring pipes give the Nick Moss Band an extra dimension live.
Onstage, Moss features mostly original songs with the same enthusiasm that others bring to classic blues covers and that’s a great thing to witness. It’s one of the reasons Moss keeps getting asked back to well-known Chicago venues such as Buddy Guy’s Legends and Rosa’s. It’s also why his band spends so much time on the road, performing the world over, from Nebraska to Norway.
For the encore of the night, Nick called his wife, blues guitarist Kate Moss, up on stage to jam which made it obvious that musical talent runs in the family; it was a nice ending to a satisfying evening of blues influenced music.
For performers like Nick Moss and Kevin Purcell who usually gig at blues clubs in the city, an opportunity to play a concert stage in their hometown area was sweet, especially for ex-Schaumburg native Moss (who now resides in Elgin). And for friends and family, the Prairie Center for the Arts is a great place to see a pair of local blues heroes in a more traditional concert setting where international stars like Taj Mahal, John Mayall and Shemekia Copeland have recently appeared.
Greg Easterling hosts the 12 midnight – 5 a.m. shift on WDRV (97.1 FM) He also hosts American Backroads on WDCB (90.9 FM).