Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Show review: The Kent McDaniel Band, Kraig Kenning at Custer's Last Stand, 6/19

By Gene Wagendorf III

Kraig Kenning (photo: Gene Wagendorf III)
The quickest way to get me to cream my pants is to be even semi-competent with a slide and a steel guitar. Paying attention, ladies? Good. That sound makes me want to settle in under the hot sun with a beer and groove. Enter Kraig Kenning at the Custer's Last Stand Festival of the Arts up in Evanston. The winner of the inaugural National Slide Guitar Festival was tearing it up on his six-string as I wandered around with my corn dog. The hook was set. Kenning wasn't playing in the most ideal of locations; a heavy fecal odor was drifting up from the sewers and mixing with clouds of incense from a nearby hippie tent and every 15 minutes or so the Purple Line would come rumbling by. He took it in stride. Jumping back and forth between blistering originals and a handful of mellow covers (a touching "Amazing Grace" and a unique spin on "Here Comes the Sun"), Kenning had his audience justifiably mesmerized. Fitting that by the end of the set I wanted to be a cowboy.

For a festival whose namesake is best remembered as the architect of one of the American military's most disastrous engagements you'd think the acts might've been playing under a bad sun. The Kent McDaniel Band didn't seem to get that memo, as all they were interested in was laughing, joking, celebrating and tearing it up. The trio opened up, appropriately, with a lazy, strolling version of "Summertime." Followed by "Sunny Side of the Street," featuring Dorothy McDaniel on vocals, the band kept the festival mood flowing. Sung sweetly and earnestly, the song worked to transport the crowd to a simpler time. One where the machines weren't about to take over and you could still split a Sunday with your date without worrying about spreading swine flu. The blues ballad "Jimmy Stu" is one of several McDaniel Band tunes soaked in an anti-establishment punch. Dedicated to "all the cosmic cowboys who ended up on the corporate ladder," it jangled along sarcastically on the strength of solid riffs and excellent percussion from savant Alpha Stewart. 

The Kent McDaniel Band (photo: Gene Wagendorf III)
Kent offered some sagely advice to the crowd when he urged that they not "believe people who tell you that you can't run away from your problems," pausing before exclaiming, "you can!" That nugget of truth was followed by perhaps his catchiest lick, the opening to the twangy "I Don't (Be Round There No More)." Good blues music can often be cathartic. At its best it passes on some wisdom, commiserates and cautions. The original "On Your Street Someday" offered crunching guitars that held up lines like "friend's say you're on a roll/the little girls all want you to hold/they love your sweet soft lies/you'd be surprised how time flies/well it's gonna get mighty lonely on your street someday." You get the impression that Mr. McDaniel knew a lot of assholes in his formative years. Sure, the blues are ripe with tales of scoundrels, but Kent seems to relish the opportunity to tell every one of those tales. "Dirty Low Down and Bad" was dedicated to those who "rather be alone than mistreated," a line that drew a lot of hoots and hollers from the crowd. Surprisingly, this was another tune that Kent's wife took the vocals on, leading the crowd the wonder if these bits of wisdom were coming from personal experience. 

The set's highlight had to be the back to back playing of "All the Alligators" and "Texas Flood." The former is a McDaniel Band original and the one the band seemed to enjoy playing most. A playful jab at coffee house intellectuals, the tune's sing-along chorus and bouncy melody had people swaying in the heat and spilling lemonade on their shoes. That was promptly followed by what the group acknowledged as their first time attempting Larry Davis' "Texas Flood." I would never have guessed it.  The song, brooding, sweaty and deliberate, fit the group perfectly. Dorothy's bass operated as a lighthouse, guiding Kent's soaring, violent guitar solo's back to Alpha's doomsday-with-a-smile percussion. I hope they keep this one in rotation, as it's destined to be a knock-it-out-of-the-park show-closer. 


Check out more show reviews:
Project Film, Exit Ghost and more at Reggies
The 1900s, Gold Motel at Taste of Randolph
Ortolan, Bring Your Ray Gun at Pancho's
The Lopez, Wett Nurse at Memories
Tinsel Teeth, Running at Crown Tap Room

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