Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Concert Review + Photos | Big Head Todd & The Monsters at Orpheum Theater in Flagstaff, AZ

All Photos by Joe O'Toole

Photos and words by Joe O'Toole.

It's a wonder why this is Big Head Todd & The Monsters' first show in Flagstaff, AZ.  The hard working foursome formed nearly 27 years ago in Colorado and has toured relentlessly since, all the while enjoying a devoted hometown fan base in the Centennial State.  One would swear he was in Colorado when experiencing Flagstaff for the first time.  As Todd Park Mohr and his cohorts took the stage at the historic Orpheum Theater, he shared his own surprise that this was their first time in Flagstaff, but promptly committed to it not being the last. 

And so they wasted no time showing off their trademark bluesy strut, weaving a setlist of rockers with  standard blues tunes like John Lee Hooker's "Boom Boom", many utilizing Todd's 1932 Dobro.  Todd shed his signature hat after only a few songs, a sure sign that things were heating up.  Big Head Todd classics ruled the night, satisfying veteran fans with spot-on versions of "Resignation Superman", "Vincent of Jersey", and "Broken Hearted Savior".  "Bittersweet" is testament to the band's early career writing abilities.  Simply stated, so much of this band's catalog still holds up.  I feel the same hearing them today as the first time I saw them in Lawrence, KS in 1993.  "It's Alright" was perfectly laid back, Brian Nevin setting the rumbling backdrop on drums.  The Fender Stratocaster was made for a song like this, and Todd laid down his underrated guitar chops in a powerful way, playing emotionally as if this were his first time playing the song.

"Please Don't Tell Her" featured Jeremy Lawton on a sleek and groovy B3 organ, and an unsuspecting Rob Squires thumping the rhythm on bass.  Once again, the band made old feel new again with precision synergy and a blues swagger that I'd put up against any touring blues band.  And Todd's voice is immediately recognizable, one that seemingly gets stronger with age. 

But don't mistake Big Head Todd & The Monsters as a nostalgia act.  They are anything but.  The band played at least three or four new songs, including a rebel rousing drinking song called "Smooth", featuring a wicked, hard hitting slide on that 1932 Dobro.  Most encouraging was the new song "We Won't Go Back To The Way It Was", presented during the encore.  This is a very gritty, rhythmically strong blues song with a Jimi Hendrix-like feel, and I don't use that reference lightly.  The thundering drums recall Hendrix's "Machine Gun".  The encore also featured Blind Lemon Jefferson's "Black Snake Moan", once again a fitting tribute to the band's pure blues roots.  The show appropriately ended with a screaming "Circle", one of those songs from twenty years ago that feels like it was written yesterday.

Big Head Todd & The Monsters have nothing to prove to anyone. Yet, anyone that has seen this band once or a hundred times knows they constantly prove themselves as a great band.  And they do so in the most gracious of manners.  They pull off effortless blues that would make their long gone mentors proud; they play their hits with reckless abandon; they continue to churn out new, hard-hitting rock songs on a regular basis.  I follow a lot of bands, and even some of the best veteran bands out there cannot deliver with the precision that Big Head Todd does.  Much like the band honored their heroes with their song "Conquistador" tonight, they themselves should be considered one of the great adventures of the blues/rock landscape.

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