Rick Estrin and the Nightcats
The Toad Tavern
April 14, 2010
Frank Zappa asked, "Does humor belong in music?" Rick Estrin would not only answer "Of course!" He'd also look at you like, "What kind of jive ass question is that?" Estrin has been writing and performing jump blues with a hard comedic edge for well over 20 years now. Starting back in 1987, he and Little Charlie and the Nightcats put out about 10 albums on the Alligator label. "Little Charlie" was a reference to guitarist Charlie Baty, but it always seemed like Estrin's band because of his lead vocals, harp playing, hipster attitude, loud suits and pointy-toed Italian shoes.
When Baty decided to retire from touring, Estrin picked up the cudgels (and the Nightcats) and kept going. Last year's Twisted, also on Alligator, was the first under the new moniker Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, and the band is currently touring, including a stop last Wednesday at the Toad Tavern.
The Nightcats remain a quartet with Estrin still front and center. Baty has been replaced by Norwegian Kid Andersen who keeps the energy up while throwing down tasty and angular blues licks. He covered the territory with R&B, rockabilly and even some Dick Dale surf riffs thrown in. Lorenzo Farrell plays acoustic and electric bass as well as keyboards, and J. Hansen is the drummer, making this possibly the only jump-blues band (outside of Minnesota) that is half Scandinavian.
As might be expected, much of the set was drawn from the band's latest CD, but Estrin tossed in some old favorites from the Little Charlie days, including the opener, "Dump that Chump":
"You keep on hopin' that man will change, But the sucker just keeps on stayin' the same. Do what it takes to get over the hump, Loose that looser, c'mon and dump that chump!"
Jump blues can be a good time all by itself but, when combined with some pretty hilarious lyrics, it's good feelings plus a whole lot of fun. Estrin introduced several songs with monologs that rate at or above your typical late night fare. One of these went into the problems and emotional turmoil of divorce. That, of course, introduced another Little Charlie classic, "My Next Ex-Wife":
"It costs so much to untie the knot, But a half of a half of a half I still got! I got a feelin' that I'm dealin' with my next ex-wife."
Besides his vocals, stage presence and song writing, Estrin's harp playing shouldn't be discounted. He's more than a dabbler in that area: his playing is an integral part of the band's jumping sound, charging it with a chugging rhythm or producing a moaning sound with soulfully bent blue notes. His playing did fall short one time. At one point in the show, Kid Andersen took a solo and played his guitar behind his back. Farrell then hoisted his acoustic bass and played it behind his back too. Hansen followed suit by jumping up to play the drums behind his back. Estrin, however, was left at center stage, obviously flummoxed with the challenge of playing a harmonica behind his back.