BluesWax Spotlight On
Darwin’s Burgers and Blues
August 25, 2012
By Gary Weeks
It’s been a few years since Chris Duarte played at Darwin’s. So for those in the audience wishing to get a more rocking perspective on their take of the blues, Duarte was a breath of fresh air.
For the two sets I witnessed, no dancers occupied the dance floor. They seemed content to sit and absorb the sounds the band was laying down. Looking out at the crowd from where I sat at the bar, people weren’t even talking to their friends as Duarte hammered away. Maybe they didn’t want to scream to make themselves heard as Duarte’s reputation for volume lives up to its name.
Believe it not, Duarte has scaled down his weaponry to make himself heard. He still has a dozen or so pedals on the stage. But instead of having several amps on stage, he only has one. And his beloved 1963 Strat was nowhere to be seen. Having put it through serious abuse it probably has been retired as Chris most likely wore it out as it had more of its fill due to Duarte attacking it like a madman.
Chris still likes to work in a trio format. For those who have followed him throughout his career, it’s nothing odd that he changes band personnel whenever the mood strikes him. On this occasion he was accompanied by drummer Dave Anthony and bassist Dustin Sargent, who proved they were the right rhythm section for Duarte’s guitar histrionics.
Opening with the Freddie King instrumental “Hideaway,” Duarte was off and running and probably went through most of his discography. The hybrid of Stevie and Jimi licks were heavy in abundance with whammy bar tremolo notes and chords painting lava lamp psychedelia amidst feedback and sustain. Of course it’s the kind of playing that doesn’t go over with everybody in the blues community. It appeals to a different kind of crowd: An audience that wishes to see the blues evolve and go out of the parameters of normalcy.
Duarte went even as far back as his first record, Texas Sugar/Strat Magik, by unleashing “Big Legged Woman” with Chris pouring on his fretboard wizardry in full and Sargent and Anthony staying tightly in the pocket. In some spots the music took off into avant garde jazz with John McLaughlin sensibilities and Steve Vai shredding.
And what’s a Chris Duarte show without the Texas shuffles? The man does them well and numbers like “Satisfy” and “How Long” could have been homages to Stevie Ray Vaughan but still bore Duarte’s indelible stamp. From his second album, Tailspin Headwhack (the record in which the label Silvertone felt was too far out in left field and decided to cut their losses while they were ahead by dropping Duarte from their roster), came the good time house-rocker “Crazy.” And those waiting for a Hendrix tribute more than got their wish when “Sundown Blues” came down the pike with hints of “Voodoo Chile” as if Robin Trower was wielding a paintbrush with Chris painting a menacing picture with cosmic note solos.
The second set was no exception with the package of firepower Duarte had up his sleeve. When Chris played the “Romp” from the album of the same title, it wasn’t delivered from the hill country but parachuted from Electric Ladyland. It was an all-out rocker with crunchy chords that made you stomp your foot until your leg wore out. The spacy rock-funk of “Cleopatra” segued nicely into “Like Eric,” Duarte’s nice tribute to guitar wunderkind Eric Johnson. You would have thought Johnson himself was on stage as Chris’ notes duplicated the tone to the precise molecule.
Hopefully Chris Duarte doesn’t wait several years to play Darwin’s again. You need a fix of this kind to adrenalize the blues to keep it from becoming stagnant.
Gary Weeks is a contributing writer at BluesWax.
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