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LIVE REVIEW --  Tommy Castro Band

Tommy Castro Band


Evanston, IL

July 10, 2010

 Tommy Castro live

By Liz Mandeville

Photos: Amy Brat

I came to see Tommy Castro with no preconceived notions. Although I’d been aware of his presence in the world of blues, I’d never had the occasion to cross paths with him until his booking at S.P.A.C.E. on July 10th. With a reputation as a true blue guitarist blessed with G.Q. good looks, Castro promised to be an entertaining diversion on a hot summer evening.

We arrived at S.P.A.C.E. in Evanston Saturday night and got rock star parking right out front. All the tables and reserved seating had sold out, but for our $20 tickets we got seats immediately to stage right in this intimate 220 seat venue. Our unobstructed view gave us the unique vantage point to watch the workings of a precision, professional unit at the top of their game, the Tommy Castro Band.

The BMA award winners for Best Band of 2010 hit the stage at exactly 8 p.m. and delivered two solid, spirited shows that featured a nice variety of grooves, fast and slow, plus soulful, unaffected vocals, tight concise solos and the type of camaraderie that is a pleasure to watch. Touring to support their latest CD and freshman outing for Alligator Records, Hard Believer, the band also honored requests from fans, played songs from Tommy’s previous catalogue and a few well chosen covers.  Muddy Waters would’ve enjoyed Tommy’s puckish rendition of “Mannish Boy” with its deep Chicago Blues groove.

The six-piece band was exceptional.  Ronnie Smith is a no-frills, pocket drummer, with unflagging energy. Scot Sutherland who wraps himself around his bass and wrestles forth a bone-rattling bottom, locks in air-tight with Smith’s bass drum. Tony Stead manned the keys, favoring a digital Hammond chordal sound that lushly supports Tommy’s guitar playing like a good pair of Nikes. Soloing, his crisp piano approach revealed exquisite technique paired with unparalleled good taste, but when trumpeter Tom Poole started to solo, the band revealed a delicious Latin flavor that caused many in the rather sedate crowd to let loose with a shimmy and some hollering. Tenor player Keith Crossan, who has played with Tommy for over 20 years, got a spotlight instrumental song with props from the boss, encouraging fans to pony up for Keith’s new CD too.

Tommy Castro, purple

Tommy Castro is genial and charming on the mic and off. His amiable patter and accessible lyrics reflect an everyman sensibility that had fans smiling and singing along with his new tune “Trimmin’ Fat” from the first chorus. Although a Fender Strat sat at the ready, Tommy played a Gibson Firebird through a custom-made amp that gave his guitar a fat, clear tone with just enough overdrive to ride the crest of the ensemble without sounding piercing or raw. His singing is clear and direct. If I had any criticism of the show it would be that the lead vocals were tucked a little too tightly into the mix, but that might’ve been where I was sitting. Castro was clearly proud of his band, not afraid to share the spotlight, as during the course of the evening everybody got a solo. The closing number, James Brown’s “Sex Machine”, revved up the crowd and gave every band member a very reasonable amount of time to display their ample chops.

            What struck me about the performance, aside from the excellent musicianship and interesting arrangements, was how much fun this band was having playing together. This was not a headliner surrounded by sidemen. There was no ego tripping, competition or head cutting going on, this was a band making contemporary music, each man supporting the others. There is a reason these guys got the Best Band Award; they truly deserve it.

Amy Brat, Bruce Iglauer, Liz Mandeville
Photographer Amy Brat, Alligator president Bruce Iglauer, writer Liz Mandeville celebrate Bruce's birthday at Tommy Castro's show.


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