LIVE: Marcia Ball @ The Egg, 3/9/19

Review by Mark Alexander Hudson

Two artists associated with the blues rolled into town at The Egg’s Swyer Theatre Egg earlier this month. I say “associated,” for to describe Marcia Ball and Sonny Landreth as simply blues musicians does not really cover the breadth and depth of their output. First up was Landreth, as laid back and laconic as ever despite a time consuming and troublesome journey from Toronto, barely making it to the venue in time for his show.

He soon blew away the cobwebs with a stunning display of guitar mastery. Just as he did at his headlining appearance at the Cohoes Music Hall last October, Landreth started the show with an acoustic set, backed by Brian Brignac on cajon and David Ranson on ukelele bass. Those not familiar with Landreth were soon picking their jaws up from the floor as his unique combination of slide, hammering on and finger picking filled the hall with a heavenly gumbo of blues, rock, zydeco and folk.

Landreth then asked if he could “amp it up a little,” and after a short break returned with the rhythm section now switching to bass and drums, and the guitarist letting loose on electric. Quite simply, Landreth is dynamite. The instrumental medley of “The Milky Way Home” and “Brave New Girl” just built and built, until it sounded like Landreth had met Frank Zappa and Eric Johnson at the crossroads and decided to take them all on a space shuttle to Mars.

At the conclusion of what was a headlining-length set, the crowd leapt to its feet, and hopefully Landreth has gained some more converts. If he was a tough act to follow, then Marcia Ball could not quite manage it for me.

The Texas-born pianist will be celebrating her 70th birthday with a big three-night bash in Austin this weekend, and she and her band certainly gave a spirited performance of her good-time, boogie woogie blues numbers. However, whether she was under the weather, or just suffering from the rigors of the road, Ball’s vocals were too often cracked and strained throughout.

Her vocal fragility actually worked well on a poignant reading of Randy Newman’s “Louisiana 1927,” but for much of the set Ball struggled to rise above the sound of her backing musicians. Her prowess on the piano was undiminished though, as she tore off some joyous barrelhouse solos, matching Mighty Mike Schermer on guitar and Eric Bernhardt on sax. Don Bennet on bass and Corey Keller on drums held down the backline. Ball closed out the evening with a romp through “The Party’s Still Going On,” one of many uptempo songs that warmed the appreciative audience on a chilly night.

SONNY LANDRETH SET LIST
(acoustic set)
Blues Attack
Key to the Highway
Hell at Home
A World Away
Creole Angel
(electric set)
Walkin’ Blues
It Hurts Me, Too
The Milky Way Home
Brave New Girl
Native Stepson
Firebird Blues
Back to Bayou Teche

MARCIA BALL SET LIST
Let’s Have a Natural Ball
Red Beans
Just Kiss Me
Shine Bright
Treat Me Right
Take a Little Louisiana
What Would I Do Without You
Life of the Party
Got to Feel Love
That’s How It Goes
Look Before You Leap
Louisiana 1927
The Right Tool for the Job
Let Me Play with Your Poodle
The Party’s Still Going On

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