Pretty Good For a Girl! Mindi Abair & The Boneshakers Delight The Dakota


What was I thinking?  If you’re like me, when an act you want to see announces you leap before you look.  How many times have I discovered I’ve double booked a show?  Or that I need to be out of town that night?  Or that putting a concert on top of a really busy schedule may make for a looong day?

Sunday was Father’s Day.  And like lots of us, I am that.  Many of us are also distracted by the streaking Twins or the final round of a US Open from Pebble Beach.  I’d also managed to take responsibility for an area swim meet which had me out the door by 6am.  Needless to say, by the time I walked into the second of two Mindi Abair & The Boneshakers sets at The Dakota, I was running on fumes.

I always have mixed feelings about sitting for music.  A bit constraining for my taste.  I like to let the music move my body.  But as somebody who has caught a lot of Dakota shows, it feels like home and I tolerate it.  The food and the vibe are a fair trade off.  Sunday I was damn glad for those chairs!

This wasn’t a show I wanted to miss after a fun interview with Abair.  TCM published it a couple weeks ago and you can go back and read it.  I came away from that conversation impressed that this was a pro’s pro.  More than just a player; somebody who knew her way around the music business.  I’d also been digging her brand new album No Good Deed, of which I’d gotten a sneak peek.  It drops end of June and it’s worth your time to find it when it does.

But local Mindi fans already know this.  Hence, the two shows and the warm reception when the band hit the stage.  The Dakota is familiar turf and they quickly made it their own.  My impression was that I was the oddity; the one guy who hadn’t caught them live on prior trips to town.

I don’t know that I had any strong preconceptions heading in.  I was aware of all the Blues Awards.  Certainly, I don’t spend a lot of time making judgments on the quality of a show; I really enjoy all kinds of music.  A youngster pulling off her first recital can move me as much as a Stones concert.  Rather, I’ll do my best to fit an act into some kind of context.  React to how the audience interacts with the band.  That’s the communion; the purpose of performance.  I like to think of myself as an open minded music lover.  I was surprised by my overall impression of Mindi Abair & The Boneshakers.

The band came out swinging.  The first three set the tone.  From LA slick to Pretty Good For A Girl (no kidding) to the old school Bow Wow Wow, that Randy Jacob’s introduced as a song in which us guys could take knuckle-dragging pride.

As the band rolled through a set list of blues, rock, R&B and jazz, it suddenly struck me how much this band screamed LA at me.  While Abair originally hails from Florida, she’s carved out her career in the City of Angels.  I recall saying something about LA in an earlier review for The Flesheaters Reunion Tour.  How something like this could only have sprung from the darker side of that music scene.  Los Angeles is the home of show biz, baby.  Let me see if I can explain that impression in a way that makes sense.

First of all, there’s so much competition in a place like that, you can rest assured that musicianship is top notch.  There are a lot of really refined bands coming from that neck of the woods.  Second, there needs to be something dramatic.  This is the land of show biz.  LA bands have always seemed to me like they can rip when they want to.  But you never get the feeling the whole thing could come flying off the tracks at any second. This show was all of that.  Hard driving, unique and totally in control of every aspect.  

Sometimes we get a good look at the person behind the musician when they perform.  Maybe that’s good and maybe it’s not, if it distracts from serving the music.  Sometimes we get exactly what the band has set out to give us.  That’s the show biz part.  Top notch production but never feel like you caught a glimpse into their collective kitchens.

About a third of the way through this particular set, it struck me that this band could easily assume the mantle of house band on any number of high end nightly talk shows.  You know, holding down the fort for Saturday Night Live, The Tonight Show, you name it.  In my mind’s eye I see the likes of GE Smith or Paul Schaeffer.  Chameleons because they are so talented.  But also able to step in with anybody and make any touring band better.  Mindi Abair & The Boneshakers struck me as the kind of group that could deliver anything you had in mind.  Mindi, in particular, has that in her background and it shines.

I came away from The Dakota without any labels I could attach to the band.  They are whoever they want to be.  It can change from song to song.  Perhaps that’s partly down to the fact that this band is an amalgamation.  They continue to preserve and respect what each brought to the table. They covered the waterfront from Grammy nominated sax dominated jazz, to gritty guitar based blues, to unadulterated slick pop rock.  Mostly original fare and plenty of representation from No Good Deed.  Some wonderful takes on classics, as well.  A great song is a great song.  The trick is to re-interpret it in an original way that remains true to the spirit and yet stands on it own.  Boy, do they do that well!

From Summertime, with a wailing sax solo, to Voo Doo Child done acoustically on cigar box and cajone, to an electrified rock version of The Rascal’s You Better Run (more Pat Benatar than Eddie Brigati) all the way to a drum solo based Cold Sweat.  Great taste and great execution.  Those songs were flat out fun and the audience let them know it.

In so many ways, this is an old school band.  Right down to that combination of lead sax and lead guitar.  It’s important to remember that early rock and roll was built around keyboards and sax, more so than the electric guitar.  It was the Chicago blues scene which pushed that electric guitar to the front.  It was an easy mix between the two.  Like Muddy Waters said:  “The blues had a baby.  And they named it rock n roll.”  So matching a world class tenor sax player with Randy Jacob’s mastery of the guitar give The Boneshakers incredible flexibility.  Layer in Rodney Lee’s work on the B3 and this band had a classic sound to which everybody in the Dakota could relate.

Obviously, none of this works without a rhythm section to support it.  The weight added to the top can’t crumble the foundation.  The combination of Ben White on bass and Third Richardson on drums grabbed my attention from the beginning.  I found myself checking in constantly throughout the evening.  I don’t know if I’ve ever shined a spotlight on a drummer.  But in this case, let me be quick to say that was the coolest percussion performance I’ve seen in a long time.  Richardson is a virtuoso.  Not something I went in expecting to experience.  A very pleasant bit of awesomeness.

And finally, Mindi.  If she was the sax player in the band, we’d all be blown away.  If she was the singer in the band, we’d all be righteously impressed.  Who else would ever attempt both?  That’s one tough assignment.  She handles it with grace and great aplomb.  On the rare occasion we can find a lead guitar player who can sing.  That explains more famous 4 piece bands than power trios!  Some great singer/songwriters are also accomplished keyboard players.  Stop for a minute.  Name somebody else who carries a band with horn and vocals.  She is one talented artist who deserves all the accolades thrown her way.

Not bad for a girl.  Not bad for a guy, either.  Not bad for a rocker, or blueswoman, or chanteuse or honky-tonk queen.  Maybe we should just agree Mindi Abair & The Boneshakers are pretty damn good.  Period.