LIVE: The Nighthawks @ The Hangar on the Hudson, Troy, 07/31/2021

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The Nighthawks Are No Fly By Nights

The straight-line incision down the center of Mark Wenner’s chest is so smooth and clean, it never breaks the complex lines from the right and left sides of his many tattoos. Mark is the only original member of the Nighthawks, but all four are road warriors including bass player Paul Pisciotta whose credits include piloting helicopters that engaged the enemy in the jungles of Vietnam and early gigs with rockabilly legend Robert Gordon. Guitarist Dan Hovey was in the infamous Root Boy Slim Band. 

The Nighthawks played most of the songs from their yet-to-be-released album in concert Saturday night, July 31st, at The Hangar on the Hudson in Troy. The new CD is tentatively titled 49/50 in honor of the band’s half century in the game. But Mark’s been playing harp since high school, and the list of past members of his band reads the list of after school detention classes at Rydell High: Jimmy Thackery, Jan Zukowski, Pete Ragusa, Greg Wetzel, Jimmy Nalls, Warren Haynes, James Solberg, Danny Morris, Pete Kanaras, Paul Bell, and Johnny Castle. 

I’ve known Mark for decades and used to book his band in my days as founder of the Northeast Blues Society. No matter who’s in Mark’s band, they always play their ass off, and you just know they’re enjoying themselves. 

During the break, Mark asked if there was anything I wanted to hear. I requested some early Muddy Waters, and they began the second set with “40 Days.” And although their sets used to include many classic blues songs, their current repertoire appeared to be mostly originals. While these numbers included iconic blues riffs and reference points, the majority were originals lyrically. They did two high energy sets of 13 songs each ending with two encore numbers, “Trying To Get to You,” the title cut of their latest album that was released just in time for the pandemic, and “Madison Blues,” paying loving homage to Elmore James.  

While the Fabulous Thunderbirds have become Kim Wilson on vocals and harp with the rest of the band consisting of hired hands, The Nighthawks are all equals — sharing writing credits and lead vocals. Like the Thunderbirds, the group’s sound is built around the harmonica which Wenner uses as more of a lead instrument over Hovey’s guitar, but the vocals are shared among all four. Wenner acknowledges that drummer Mark Stutso is the best vocalist as he proved on a tearful “A Fool for Loving You.” 

While these guys may be approaching geezer status, they’re not driving daddy’s Mercury. The material is new with classic overtones, and Wenner is collecting surgical scars like Pisciotta collected soldier’s metals. They love what they do and so do their fans. Great to see them back in the area. 

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