The tony Charles Hotel at Harvard Square is not where you might expect to clap your hands and shake your hips to a fantastic blues band, but that’s exactly what happened last Saturday night when Chicago-based Li’L Ed and the Blues Imperials played the swanky Regattabar at the Charles. This gal who loves J.S. Bach was there and loved it.
Yes, Li’l Ed is on the short side, but there is nothing diminutive about the way he plays the slide guitar. Dressed in long puffed sleeves and a pink-and-blue fez, which added several inches to his height, Li’l Ed’s guitar solos smoked – not so much with speed, but with expressive vibrato and slide effects that any violinist would envy. He was backed up by his tall, white-haired counterpart Michael Garret, whose own electric guitar playing alternated between wild, loose-wristed strumming to fast finger-picking solos. They were expertly supported by the expansive James “Pookie” Young on bass and drummer Kelly Littleton. The guys all sang in-tune and perfectly in sync. Another effect much appreciated by my tender ears: the Regattabar’s sound engineer amplified the music so that it was dynamic and clearly present but never distorted.
The Blues Imperials are masters of programming – switching from up-tempo, swing, rhythm and blues numbers to down and dirty Chicago Blues, with interesting key relationships between the numbers. They played full-out for over an hour-and-a half without a break, but every moment was fully engaged and engaging. People drank, danced in the aisles, felt free to get up to go to the bathroom, tapped their toes, and had a good old time. Nobody sat still or fell asleep.
Hmm, we classical cats could learn a thing or two.