The Matthew Stubbs Band featured Dennis Brennan on vocals at the Next Page Café last night. It was a great combo for the blues-loving crowd at the popular Weymouth, Massachusetts nightspot. People were coming up to the dance floor all night and others could be seen singing along.
The Next Page Café’s band area has incredibly detailed artwork on the wall. Mural drawings by local artist Gene Zupkofska fill the walls with sharply drawn images of long gone blues greats. The art work and recent changes in booking agents have given The Next Page Café a professional, scrubbed clean vibe. The comfortable atmosphere is a great place to meet real people who truly appreciate this music of the working class.
Stubbs played in his usually clean guitar style drawn from blues and oldies rock and roll from the late 1950s to the early 1960s. A lot of his songs make you picture 1957 Chevies or 1963 Mustangs. He draws his style from when his favorite kind of music was still young and still building upon influences from previous American music.
Opening with Muddy Waters’ “I Live The Life I Love” allowed feature Dennis Brennan to showcase his raw, punchy vocal and greasy, electrifying harmonica. The four piece also featured John Bunszell on bass guitar and new Roomful Of Blues drummer Chris Rivelli on the skins. This rhythm section went into “Mellow Down Easy” with true class, with its playful rhythm being the perfect launching pad for Brennan’s jumping delivery. Stubbs riffed his way through with an echoy chord progression, and his main phrase was loaded with a cool, sharp precision.
On down tempo, slow boiling songs, the band got to dig deeper into the feeling of this music. Brennan’s greasy harp lines and his raw vocal lines were sinister in their range. Brennan’s best moments came when he got into the intense instrumental portions of a song, playing fiery, feisty harp phrases like a man possessed, lost in the labyrinth of his notes, tones. He blew some wild, at times monumental, gusts of sound. He certainly had the power last night to trade licks and phrases with the man. The rhythm section brought a meaningful, steady thump into their flexible, mounting grooves, and Stubbs would perfect his vintage tone, playing leads that were sly, brittle, sharp, loaded with vintage colors from the heyday of rock and roll. The Jimmy Reed song “Take Out Some Insurance” gave Stubbs more room to play those vintage tones, making them ring out with authenticity.
The three piece of Stubbs, Bunszell, and Rivelli played a surf inspired instrumental notable for its speedy rhythms. Stubbs tore into them with his crying high notes. The sound expanded once Brenner jumped back into the mix with his whirring harp line. He sang out the line “This is the last time I will play the fool for you” with the sort of forlorn desperation of a man who has lived the blues. Stubb’ss guitar break was loaded with plenty of biting, stinging snap, and Bunszell was rocking his bass grooves over the beat.
The Tina Turner classic “Crazy Bout You, Baby” gave the rhythm boys a chance to slow the beat down to finesse the groove while Brennan worked out the forlorn lyrical melody. Little Walter’s “My Babe” let Brennan belt it out at the microphone and blow out his wildest harp lines of the night. He wailed a screaming series of notes that had a life of their own. Stubbs soon got in on the action with a shimmering guitar phrase that sounded like the guitar was shouting out the notes in high octave.
The Sonny Boy Williamson number “Early In The Morning” gave Brennan a moment to let his whiskey-soaked voice flow through that classic chorus. Stubbs, too, got the feeling right in his sharp take on the lead guitar melody. It helped that the rhythm boys kept that hazy afternoon groove going on. Soon after, Brennan plugged in his electric guitar and served up some fine rhythm stuff. This lead to some snappy contrasts with Stubbs’s twitchy phrasing.
“That’s All Right” by Arthur Crudup got a smoother timbre last night than the old R&B version popularized by Elvis Presley. Stubbs gave it his all on the ringing notes, giving the melody authenticity. At times, a listener might have felt that that was the way the song would have sounded in small clubs back in the early 1950s. Closing out with the classic “Don’t You Lie To Me,” the rhythm section got a nice shuffling groove going on. The rumbling number was the perfect tune to end the evening with bumpy rhythm and exuberant vocalizing. Stubbs, too, bumped it up, firing off some feisty guitar licks.