On yet another evening when snow and vindictive sub-zero temperatures made their way into Western New York, Southern rock pioneers The Outlaws proceeded to make the polar vortex their bitch by bringing The Bear’s Den inside Seneca Niagara Casino to a boil with cordiality and infernal guitar interplay.
Despite singer/guitarist Henry Paul and drummer Monte Yoho being the only surviving members from the band’s initial incarnation, never once did the vibe feel anything but raucous. Guitarists Chris Anderson and Steve Grisham incinerated both the audience and its expectations via a setup as simple as a Gibson Les Paul surging through a Peavey/Marshall cab combo.
Detractors often berate so-called “nostalgia” acts for trolling the casino/county fair circuit in an attempt to rekindle the past, but I’ve reached a point at which I can no longer stomach such a term being thrown around. If waxing nostalgic about a time when musicality meant something and being an exceptional American picker didn’t refer to fleecing people out of their precious family heirlooms is a crime, consider me a serial offender.
Paul and Yoho have assembled just the right mix of personalities to be able to build upon the Southern rock heritage without sacrificing an ounce of its muscle, which, on Saturday night, proved to be the key ingredient to a saucy affair.
“There Goes Another Love Song, “Hurry Sundown,” and “Grey Ghost” were dynamite opportunities for the band to show off its collective prowess, as Paul’s voice and stage presence kept things striving toward a bracing climax of “Green Grass and High Tides” that made me wonder why the song doesn’t elicit more attention from terrestrial radio. It’s a seminal composition whose beers-around-the-campfire jam tells you everything you need to know regarding the lingering appeal of Southern rock.
What endeared groups such as The Outlaws, The Allman Brothers Band, Lynyrd Skynyrd, and The Marshall Tucker Band to fans from the beginning was their authenticity and insistence on substance over style. They were just a bunch of regular guys who happened to become supremely skilled musicians through years of dedicating themselves to the muse, and, when success came knocking, they answered without the expectation that doing so would change who they were inside.
Being at the mercy of The Outlaws for 50 minutes would’ve been an idyllic way to spend a Saturday night on its own, but Henry Paul is so versatile that he also found time to give the crowd a taste of Blackhawk, his straightforward country outfit celebrating its twentieth year of existence.
Because Blackhawk’s niche is akin to the traditional country arrangements of old, the room for improvisation was limited, and the fiery guitar work was swapped out for pitch perfect vocal harmonizing.
Hearing songs such as “Every Once in a While” and “I Sure Can Smell the Rain” performed so beautifully was a welcome contrast to the cliché-ridden faux-country that continues to sell out Darien Lake Performing Arts Center year after year. Paul and keyboardist/vocalist Dave Robbins proved that one doesn’t need to rely on shoddy sexual innuendo to move an audience, because their sophisticated lyricisms have been getting the job done without fail since 1994.
The only question I had following this inspired session was who will fill the void once The Outlaws decide to hang it up.
Outside of The Sheepdogs and Blackberry Smoke, will a younger band emerge to carry the Southern rock flag? Is the present landscape even strong enough to support a band of that ilk given its aversion to anything respectable?
We shall see.