I heard a few weeks ago that Lil Rev and Jim Liban were going to be playing together at Linnemans this weekend, but I did not have high hopes of being able to make that show. I'm still quite unemployed; times are tough. Late this past week, however, I fell into just enough cash to make the cover charge with enough left over to get a drink. So I dropped in there last night (Linnemans is a great little place, right in Riverwest, just a few blocks from my apartment), and my brother, and our friend Chris, met me there. We were in for a real treat. Anyone who has seen Lil Rev knows what a great musician and showman he is. A Lil Rev show is always a rewarding experience. Jim Liban is a living legend, a true bluesman. He also could hold the stage on his own. And they were joined by another great musician, Steve Cohen, whose blues voice, guitar work, and harmonica I'd love to hear again. The three of them, for about four hours, took turns picking what they would play.
It was a great night for the blues, a truly outstanding show. I must say that one of the things that made it so special was that, beyond the great music, there was a real engagement with the crowd. I could envision a great musician playing a whole set without ever interacting with the crowd. (In fact, I saw Bob Dylan do this once at Summerfest.) Not so with these three; they were all very engaging; Rev, though, seems to go the extra mile. His banter, his getting the crowd to sing certain parts, his humor, it all elevated the collective mood in the room. He often tells a story before playing a song, about its writer, or about his own experience, or whatever.
In fact, one of my favorite moments of the night was when they played Lil Rev's own bluesy version of "Saint James Infirmary", and Rev introduced it by talking about the great music scene in New Orleans. He said that there is a certain club in New Orleans (I don't recall the name of the place) where you will find a sign that actually gives a price for requesting certain songs. "Saint James Infirmary" is one of them. My brother had his fancy phone with him, and took a few seconds of video during this song:
I don't think I have ever heard two harmonicas at one time. Last night that happened quite a few times. All three are great harmonica players. In fact, for one song, all three were on harmonica.
Especially meaningful for me was when Lil Rev took a few minutes to talk about his greatest personal harmonica influence, my late pastor, Stephen Wiest. All in all, it was a splendid night. I got out of there at about half past midnight, which of course I shouldn't do on the night before the Lord's Day, but hey, maybe tonight or tomorrow I will catch up on sleep. Below are two pictures that my brother took. The guy on your right is Jim Liban. The one on your left is Steve Cohen. The one with the hat is Lil Rev.