Soulful blues light up Bethesda

coco montoya

It was a night of soulful blues in Bethesda Wednesday night with local band Bad Influence opening up for famed vocalist and guitar player Coco Montoya. The show was held at the Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club on Wisconsin Avenue.

Things heated up pretty quickly as four-piece-band Bad Influence took the stage, launching right into songs from their latest CD “Under The Influence,” which was nominated by the Washington Area Music Association for Best Blues Recording.

From the outset, drummer David Thaler provided huge sounding percussion, which immediately got a few audience members off their seats and onto the dance floor. Once guitarist Michael Tash started playing, the room was immediately filled with a nice combination of blues and rock with a little bit of country thrown in for good measure.

The band’s popularity became clear with the crowd’s response when Tash asked if anybody knew who they were.  About 15 minutes into their impressive set, the band broke into the song “Sugar Daddy Baby,” a mid-tempo cut that starts with Roger Edsall’s skillful harmonica playing and continues as he belts out lyrics about a man pining for a woman.

“Sitting on sugar so sweet I got a real sweet thing for be my sugar daddy baby, and I'll be your sugar daddy too,” he sung, as Tash bended guitar notes.

Most of the songs were led by the voice of Bob Mallardi, who delivered warm and powerful vocals throughout the night, especially on cuts like “The Cougar Song” and “As the Years Go Passing By.” During the latter, Mallardi's emotional delivery seemed to have the audience in a trance as he sung about deep heartache and loss.

Most of the 45-minute set was extremely up-tempo, which might surprise those who aren't familiar with the blues, which Tash talked about after the band's performance.

“[A lot of people] don't get it,” Tash said. “They think it's slow, depressing, boring. You saw us. We'll play maybe three slow songs in a night. Everything is high-energy, upbeat, in-your-face kind of music.”

Tash said many younger music fans don't get to see live bands that much, like he did when he was a kid, which he said may give strength to the stereotype that all blues music is morose.

Coco Montoya was up next and opened up with “Wish I Could Be That Strong” off his 2002 album “Can't Look Back,” which immediately got the crowd on their feet. The taller-in-person guitarist entered the stage with three other musicians: Brant Leeper on keyboards, Nathan Brown on bass and Rena Beavers on drums. For nearly two hours they all played a nearly flawless set to the little more than half-filled room.

Next up was the song “Hey Senorita,” off of Montoya's 2002 CD “I Want It All Back.” Montoya played it so comfortably it was easy to tell he's been playing it for a long time, but he managed to keep it fresh.

He then launched into “I Need Your Love in My Life” from his latest release “Songs From The Road,” which is his first live album. The mid-tempo cut included punchy drum sounds from Beavers accompanied by Montoya's masterful guitar playing. He stood directly in the middle of the stage, eyes closed, seemingly lost in the notes.

Besides the strong guitar playing, the 62-year-old charmed the crowd with warm banter, as he constantly expressed his gratitude and humility for having such loyal fans.

Another highlight of the evening that got the audience on the dance floor was the song “The One Who Really Loves You,” a cut written by the prolific Smokey Robinson.

Throughout the evening it seemed Montoya felt right at home as he played each song looking incredibly relaxed. Just when the audience would get too comfortable with the groovy melodies, he would mix it up with loud electric guitar riffs.

At one point the California native handed his electric guitar to a couple of men in the crowd and gave them a chance to play. 

After the set, Montoya spoke a little about “Songs From The Road,” which debuted at No. 15 on the Blues Billboard Charts, which is rare for a live album to do. He said he never intended to do a live album, but the musicians he's currently working with gave him the necessary confidence.

“My first and only live CD…I wasn't planning to do one,” he said. “But it came to me at the right time with the right musicians, and it's something I'm really proud of, which I never thought I'd say, because I'm my worst critic. These guys are great and they led me to that place, and we're out touring it.”

Montoya said he really enjoyed playing at Bethesda Blues and Jazz Supper Club, as it was his first time.

“It's a wonderful venue here,” he said. “I like it here...I think it's beautiful and if I'm lucky I'll get to come back."

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