The Johnny Max Bigger Band
Revival Bar, Thursday, January 13th
‘Twas on a fateful night back in 2008 that a determined Johnny Max decided to get a jumpstart on the weekend’s Blues Summit by holding a blow-out party at the sound-friendly Trane Studios.
The show would feature Johnny and his band together with Paul Reddick and his makeshift squad of musical notables. That was before a severe, 2-day blackout swallowed up a good section of the city and, on the night of the show, Johnny was forced to move his party out of the black and about 2 blocks north to carry on with his plans at a barely heated Mayday Malone’s.
With the release of his newest CD, It’s A Long Road, Johnny figured he’d get things cooking in similar fashion to help kick off this year’s Summit.
The Revival Bar was abuzz as Johnny’s regular band consisting of Vince Maccarone (drums & percussion), Wayne Deadder (bass, guitars, background vocals), John Findlay (guitars, vocals). Paul Ormandy (percussion) and Jesse O’Brien (keyboards) were to be supplemented with a full horn section comprised of Johnny Johnson (sax), Gord Myers (trombone), Steve Crowe and Kevin Turcotte (trumpets).
Given Johnny’s twisted R&B take on the blues – realized to a tee on the Juno-contending It’s A Long Road – that’s tantamount to giving David Berkowitz a new box of bullets for his birthday. Needless to say, the added horn power would help add considerable punch and groove to the new material.
Needless to say, indeed. As the temperatures plunged outside, the mercury rose quickly in the house. Johnny seemed somewhat nervous given that some of the material had not yet been performed live but he needn’t have been.
The house was full of supportive friends and fans and, based on the Juno success of his last outing and Johnny’s multiple Maple Blue nominations for the upcoming Awards show, this was a massive pep rally for the pre-converted.
In no particular order, The Johnny Max ‘Bigger’ Band ran through a blistering double-set of new classics together with choice tracks from A Lesson I’ve Learned and Ride & Roll. Stand-outs included the slinky, horn and piano-driven “Daddy’s Little Girl” from the new album together with the extra-greasy “One Day”.
A surprise highlight was Wayne Deadder’s original “Song of New York”, revealing another level of sophistication to what the band does best. Ballads like “Heading Back To You” benefited greatly from the horn assembly while the full-frontal assault pushed “Daddy’s Girl” beyond expectations.
John Findlay’s role is key and tough songs like “Too Many Fish” packed a mighty groove while understated percussionist Paul Ormandy demonstrates the added funk quotient he contributes on each and every song (especially evident on “That’s It, I Quit”).
Findlay’s leads are clean, tidy and precise, his concentration never faltering for a moment, lurking behind the outspoken Max. Likewise, keyboard player Jesse O’Brien drives many songs with his tasteful barrage of 88s with a delightful solo on the jazzy “She Don’t Love Me Anymore”.
The rocket-in-the-pocket combination of “Shifty” Deadder and Vince Maccarone – although hidden due to the narrow layout of the packed stage, make for an aggressive rhythm section, providing the perfect foil for their front man.
Johnny Max clearly loves the material and sells it best to a crowd when he can read they’re enjoying it. As it was clear that they were, Johnny ramped up his energy level to match the material.
I’m In Trouble” provided another high water mark and is likely Johnny’s theme song. From the crowd-pleasing “I’m In Trouble” to the hard-driving “She’s Not The Marrying Kind”, the audience were pumped and fully into it.
No power failures. No last-minute complications. Just a night of great music from a band who loves to play as much as their audience loves to listen – and dance – to what they do.
The perfect Friday night appetizer to the Blues Summit weekend ahead, if not a colourful reminder why people have lots to love about our homegrown blues.