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Daily Gazette (www.dailygazette.com)
Music review: Blotto-influenced bands regroup and rock out
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
By MICHAEL HOCHANADEL
for The Daily Gazette
SCHENECTADY — Bad news: Blotto didn’t appear on Sunday at Music Haven in a
revue of 1980s Albany bands, billed as a Blotto Records Reunion. Main
songwriter Broadway Blotto was sick.
Good news: The four bands who made the gig played in the giant shadow
Blotto cast in their heyday by echoing their influence to more than just
nostalgic effect. Blotto showed how to be funny and still rock. And Blotto
members helped staff the other bands on Sunday.
First up, the Amazing Rob & John Band featured a borrowed rhythm section
with drummer F. Lee Harvey Blotto behind the early-Beatles-esque folk-rock
duo Rob & John in a four-song set that sprang from “Ronald Reggae” — a
witty reggae song about Reagan that still packs a progressive political
punch — and built to the rousing “Run Away, Follow Me.” Rob introduced
their set as “live, from 1985,” but their songs held up well.
Next up, the Sharks: once a bristling, horn-powered R&B combo, now a
four-piece led by keyboardist Michael Kelley, a Shark back then, now a
member of the reconstituted Blotto. Keying basslines, chords and melodies,
singing all the leads, Kelley carried the set, until Blotto band-mates
Sergeant Blotto and Bowtie Blotto chimed in on harmonica and banjo,
respectively. Even before those guys came on, the four Sharks made a
mighty sound, and the four-piece version finished strong with “Arm in
Arm,” a vintage track of self-deprecating R&B about a courtship that went
surprisingly well for its modest protagonist.
Johnny Rabb sounded perhaps least dated of all by charging decades farther
back in time than the 1980s, to rockabilly and romance, 1950s-style. All
swagger and pompadour, in impossibly tight jeans, he promised “Good
Rockin’ Tonight” and delivered, with the Blotto rhythm section powering
this hot-rod — Rabb steering and guitarist Scotty Mac playing like an
overheated radio tuned to rockabilly, 1956.
The Penny Knight Band members live in five different cities and reunited
via websites, but they played the most unified and impressive set of the
night. If Johnny Rabb and his Jailhouse Rockers looked like the guys Baby
Boomers’ moms warned their daughters about, Knight’s crew could have been
accountants at a rock fantasy camp.
With Knight’s powerhouse voice at the center of their proud, loud, retro
sound, they projected arena-rock muscle through crisp ensemble playing,
electric might and songs built to blast. Everything went big, then
sometimes bigger, even the ballad “You Put the Fire Back in My Heart”
about love’s return. They hit with prog-rock complexity, but also big
soulfulness, an impressive return to action by a band dormant for nearly