About a year ago I told you about a promising young blues player I saw at the now-defunct Wild Rooster: Chris Watson. I ran into him backstage at the Josh Weathers farewell show at Billy Bob’s, and he told me he had a new band and had been re-inventing himself.
So when I saw Watson was playing the Live Oak on Friday, I headed down there to check it out.
The dining room was packed, and it’s good to see people are starting to appreciate this gem of a venue. I made my way to the back room, where the sonic happens, and snagged a stool next to the sound board. Greg Schroeder was on stage finishing up his set.
Schroeder is a country-folk singer/songwriter with an emotive, folksy voice and some really nice guitar work — I especially liked the slide. He finished up with the Johnny Cash classic Ring of Fire. I love that song; one time many years ago, it even compelled me to get into a mosh pit. I would love to catch a full set, and I’ll be keeping an eye out for the next time Schroeder plays Funkytown.
There was a pretty good crowd forming by the time the curtains pulled back and the Chris Watson Band took the stage with a thunderclap of a drum intro. The last time I saw Watson, his act was more heavily guitar-blues; this mess was more soul-flavored. We had Watson (guitar, vocals), Brian Miller (bass), Chris “Chill” Hill (drums), Preston Lewis (sax), James McNair (trombone) and Jeff Fulkerson (trumpet).
Watson started out with originals, and although they were excellent, it seemed that he was having trouble engaging the crowd (as often happens with a bar audience). An experienced performer, he threw in a few covers to make that connection. He did Stevie Wonder’s Uptight, Eyesight to the Blind, by Sonny Boy Williamson; Use Me, by Bill Withers; and then a medley starting with Wonder’s Superstition and morphing into all sorts of stuff like Oh Well, by Fleetwood Mac; Foxy Lady and Voodoo Chile, by Jimi Hendrix; and Another One Bites the Dust, by Queen. Seriously, he did that last song, and although he didn’t do the lyrics, the audience did.
The hook was set at that point, and he had their full attention.
Watson followed up with some more of his originals, this time with an enthusiastic following. The horn section was punchy, the rhythm section was rock solid and Watson is one of the most promising young guitar players in the Fort. When they left the stage, the audience didn’t move. They stood there shouting and demanding an encore. The band obliged with another original. In all, the Chris Watson Band was up there playing full tilt for two hours.
Watson is not the first performer to front a blues/soul band with horns. In fact, what he does is not new or original or experimental — people have doing this for half a century. But when it’s done right, it is pure magic.
Go see the Chris Watson Band and you will have an amazing time, feeling much better than you did when you got there. What more could you ask?