Energetic. Classy. Soulful. Kind Hearted. Mischievous. and Fantastically Fun.
Just a few of the words one could use to describe a concert that is so tight, so locked in, and completely ready to take you on a ride through Chicago like you've never gone before.
The Welch Ledbetter Connection are something to behold as they seem to exist in that rare air at the top of world.
Monster Mike Welch hails from Boston, Massachusetts and boy has the state got something to be proud of in this young man. He can tear into a solo or groove, or well anything really, with the ferocious power of a jungle cat that might have had about 12 too many Redbulls before breakfast. But he does it with the skill and precision of an experienced brain surgeon. Each powerful note hit expertly and pulled out of the guitar. If ever there were a case to be made for finding extensions of ourselves, the guitar and the Blues surely are Mikes natural extension.
Mr. Michael Ledbetter, from Chicago Illinois, has a range that is hard to understand until you hear him for yourself. The thought of someone capable of Opera and right down into the deep and dirty Blues... and making it all look masterfully done without a hint of false steps. The pure raw passion and power he puts into his work comes through like a shining beacon on the modern music scene. He can take his guitar and make her sing like Lucille’s younger sister, and turn around and give that same guitar a run for its money trying to hit the same notes as his vocals that can explode into existence from some other plain of existence.
Now put these two powerhouse artists together and stand back. Because something beautiful is about to happen.
They are met toe to toe with a rhythm section that maintain that straight ahead hard charging Chicago/Delta beat as Mike and or Mike are flying on the melody.
On bass is Scot Sutherland, who is actively sought after as a first rate sideman. He carries his sometimes funky, sometimes rock, and an always steady bass line through every song keeping things thrumming along in perfect time.
At Chans: Andrew 'Blaze' Thomas was on drums who has worked with Grammy Nominee Billy Branch and the Sons of Blues, he has also worked with Joseph Veloz. A Chicago native, he started with gospel music and after getting his bachelors at Western Illinois University he became a professional drummer who has worked in recording sessions as well as live venue performances. His work at Chans proves that he has the heart, energy, and talent to work with the best in the business.
At The North Atlantic Blues Festival, J. Hansen was on drums having spent a decade touring with the Rick Estrin and The Nightcats band (formerly Little Charlie and The Nightcats). Having also worked with other great artists such as Buddy Guy, Little Charlie, Taj Mahal, Kim Wilson, Jimmie Vaughn, Tommy Castro, and many more he has honed his skills into an impressive and tight beat that supports and propels the band forward in music and in time. Drawing on the classics he is able to lend to the future with the next generation of Blues musicians and artists. His fierce drive and unrelenting beat were the perfect match for a large scale festival that drove the audience to their feet.
What could make this even better you ask? Does it get better than this?
Well you're missing something if you stop right here because on the Piano/Organ sits, Jamiel Allen. His dedication to furthering music and musical culture in the world stemming from his bones means he puts everything he has into every note he plays. And man oh man, he plays that organ like his life depends on it!
The first time I had the pleasure of seeing this connection of top shelf musicians was also at my first ever Blues festival, The North Atlantic Blues Festival in Rockland ME, earlier this year.
To say that they stole the show... Would be an understatement. In a festival with Bobby Rush, Little Walter, Wee Willie Walker, Vanessa Collier, Tab Benoit, Lurie Bell, Slam Allen, Kat Riggins, and Mud Morganfield you could be forgiven for being overwhelmed with all the awesome being thrown at you all day long for two days. But these guys.... Welch and Ledbetter and the whole damn band, easily could have headlined the entire event. They took that stage and owned every inch of it, and the ground in front of it too.
This is one heck of a way to make a first impression. Hearing them perform songs from their new album, Right Place Right Time, like Cry Baby Cry, Goodbye Baby, How Long Can This Go On, Cryin Won't Help You (and so much more gold that’s not on the album too) live and in person in front of a few thousand people was definitely a top 10 way to make a phenomenal impression.
I already knew I liked these guys, having listened to them off and on through the years before their pairing. Mike Ledbetter with Nick Moss and his band. Mike Welch with the likes of Anthony Geraci, Sugar Ray, Ronnie Earl, Duke Robillard, Shemekia Copeland, Nick Moss, Johnny Winter and many more.
But I was absolutely blown away seeing them paired together. Seeing them play together and off of each other, sometimes literally physically leaned into one another for support when they are hitting those intense special moments in the music. To say that it was a perfect pairing from the point of view of a spectator is a complete no brainer, and a bit of an understatement.
It's kind of like Han and Chewie on guitar with the band as the Falcon keeping the whole thing together and driving at you hard and fast.
I'm betting these guys could do the Kessel Run in under 6 parsecs.
After seeing them in a festival setting, I was excited to see them in a concert single performer/band setting.
I wasn't disappointed. If possible, they raised the bar that much higher. With emotion and passion poured into music for their family that inspired them, and in service to the legacy of the Chicago and Delta Blues, they delved that much deeper into the raw and honest Blues that touches on more than just the party scene. An exploration of the sadness of life and the often times unfair hands we are dealt, and then taking that experience and not letting it take you down.
I'm not sure that I've seen anyone so uniquely pour their passion for music and life into every note as these two gentlemen do out front and center. Certainly there are passionate and high energy artists out there that are phenomenal, but Welch and Ledbetter do it from a space of unique energy and depth that you don't see very often. It's happened a handful of times over the years. John Lee Hooker and Junior Wells spring to mind.
Even if a microphone decides to fall apart, these guys carry it off with humor and grace. Not an easy thing to do in front of a pack room full of people. Especially mid sentence. But I'm here to tell you, it CAN be done.
And as if this weren't enough, as powerful and commanding and unbelievably talented as they are on stage, they are just as gracious and kind off the stage.
There isn't a lot of moments when I can easily decide something when it comes to my top favorite artists, especially at the national level, as to where they rank in my preferences. But these guys right here, are easily in my top 5 of living and active artists. And if I went back and looked, I'm certain I'd see their names land in the upper ranks of top favorite artists/bands in total.
I can't stress this enough; if you are looking for fun, if you are looking for depth, for honest music, for a chance to leave the rest of the world behind and just experience a moment of honest joy...then you simply cannot go wrong with catching the Welch Ledbetter Connection live!
*This review was not solicited by the musicians or venue.