By John Curley
Audience members heading for The Blues Brothers’ show at the Wellmont Theater in Montclair, NJ on Friday, March 4th very likely had an inkling that they were in for a very special night of entertainment when, turning the corner from Bloomfield Avenue onto Seymour Street, they were greeted with the magnificent sight of the Bluesmobile from the eponymous 1980 film parked across the street from the theater. Many fans posed for photos with the Bluesmobile prior to entering the theater.
Once inside the theater, the excitement in the audience was evident. Several audience members were dressed head-to-toe in full Blues Brothers regalia: black suit, black shoes, white shirt, thin black tie, black Ray-Ban Wayfarer sunglasses, and a black fedora perched on their heads. As showtime approached, the crowd was really buzzing. A “We want the show!” chant from the crowd arose, a tip of the hat to the crowd in the 1980 film’s concert sequence.
The Blues Brothers first came to life in 1978 on NBC’s Saturday Night Live as cast members Dan Aykroyd and John Belushi transformed themselves into Elwood Blues and Joliet Jake Blues, respectively. They paid tribute to the blues and soul artists they loved while backed by a stellar band led by SNL’s music director Paul Shaffer. The band featured guitarists Steve Cropper and Matt Murphy, bassist Duck Dunn, drummer Steve Jordan, saxophonists Lou Marini and Tom Scott, and trombonist Tom Malone. The Blues Brothers’ frenetic performance of Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man” on SNL helped the song become a hit for them when it was released as a single from their 1978 album Briefcase Full of Blues. Their film, The Blues Brothers, which was directed by John Landis, was released in 1980 and it also produced a hit soundtrack album. A final album from the original lineup, Made in America, was released in 1981.
The Blues Brothers are now fronted by Aykroyd as Elwood Blues and Jim Belushi as Brother Zee. They are backed by the fantastic Sacred Hearts band. Sacred Hearts are comprised of guitarists Johnny Lee Schell and J.J. Holiday, bassist Larry Lee Lerna, drummer Tony Braunagel, saxophonist/composer Joe Sublett, Darrell Leonard on trumpet, Johnny Rubano on vocals and trumpet, vocalist Julie Delgado, and Jimmie Wood on vocals and harmonica.
The crowd roared when Sacred Hearts took the stage and blasted right into a rip-roaring take on The Bar-Kays’ “Soul Finger” that served as the intro music for Elwood and Brother Zee. When the pair sauntered onstage, the audience absolutely erupted. Their choice of an opener for the show was outstanding, Robert Johnson’s “Sweet Home Chicago.” It featured great lead guitar, harmonica, and lead vocals from Elwood and Brother Zee. They followed that with a terrific version of Otis Redding’s “Hard To Handle” that was highlighted by Brother Zee’s vocals and Sublett’s magnificent saxophone work.
Like his late brother Joliet Jake, Brother Zee is an energetic dynamo. For the third song, “I’m Ready,” Brother Zee ventured into the crowd, shaking hands and high fiving audience members as well as dancing with some of the female members of the crowd while continuing to sing the entire time.
Next up was Willie Dixon’s “300 Pounds,” which provided some very funny comic relief. Elwood and Brother Zee lifted their shirts to show off their bellies, then Brother Zee brought a male audience member onstage for some funky and butt-shaking dance moves as well as some chest bumping. The crowd loved it. They followed that with Big Joe Turner’s “Flip, Flop & Fly.” The horn section was particularly good there. And Elwood and Brother Zee did a comic dance together that had the audience roaring.
Prior to the performance of Bobby “Blue” Bland’s “36 x 22 x 36,” Brother Zee spoke to the crowd about a woman that had broken his heart and dedicated the song to her. During the song, which featured terrific saxophone playing by Sublett, Brother Zee brought a female audience member onstage to dance with him.
Following the performance of “36 x 22 x 36,” Paul Shaffer was introduced to the audience. Shaffer then joined the band on keyboards and Hammond organ for the remainder of the show. Next up was Floyd Dixon’s “Hey Bartender,” which featured outstanding harmonica playing by Wood as well as great work by the horn section and a nice job on lead vocals by Elwood and Brother Zee. When they finished their performance of the song, one of the venue’s bartenders walked onstage to serve drinks to Elwood and Brother Zee.
Elwood’s moment in the spotlight came with the performance of The Chips’ “Rubber Biscuit.” He did a great job on what is not the easiest song to sing, with its fast-paced nonsensical chorus. “Rubber Biscuit” was also highlighted by Shaffer’s terrific keyboard playing. Elwood and Brother Zee then left the stage momentarily to turn the leadership role over to Shaffer, who, on the Hammond organ, led the band through a marvelous take on Booker T & the MGs “Green Onions.” The crowd gave it a huge hand.
Elwood and Brother Zee returned for the performance of Chris Kenner’s “Land of a Thousand Dances.” Brother Zee brought several female audience members onstage to dance, which received a great reaction from the crowd.
Elwood and Brother Zee then relinquished the stage to the band to highlight two of the vocalists. First, Rubano sang lead on “Grits,” which also featured nice work by the horn section. Then, Wood sang lead on “Altar of Love” as well as playing some terrific harmonica. The song also featured great guitar work and powerhouse horns. While “Altar of Love” was being performed, Brother Zee ventured back out into the audience and greeted members of the crowd.
Elwood and Brother Zee came back onstage to do “Driving Wheel,” which featured Elwood on lead vocals. They then shared lead-vocal duties on “Dig Myself A Hole,” which featured fine work by Shaffer on the Hammond organ.
One of the highlights of the show was the performance of Delbert McClinton’s “B Movie Boxcar Blues,” which featured Brother Zee and Elwood on vocals as well as Elwood on harmonica. At one point, Shaffer left his keyboard to join Elwood and Brother Zee at the front of the stage where the trio proceeded to lay down on the floor and shake their feet in the air in time with the music during the instrumental break. The crowd ate it up.
Elwood and Brother Zee then departed to turn the stage over to Delgado for her terrific performance of Carole King and Gerry Goffin’s “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.” The horns were featured here as well, and were great.
Elwood and Brother Zee came back to the stage to perform Taj Mahal’s “She Caught The Katy.” Brother Zee was on lead vocals. This version was rocked up a bit, and faster than the one played at the outset of The Blues Brothers film.
The main set closed with The Blues Brothers’ signature song, Sam and Dave’s “Soul Man.” Brother Zee and Rubano traded off on the lead vocals, and it brought the house down. The horns and the guitar work on “Soul Man” were outstanding.
Following the briefest of breaks, all of the personnel returned to the stage for a two-song encore. The crowd was on their feet and cheering as Brother Zee’s lead vocals lead the charge on Solomon Burke’s “Everybody Needs Somebody To Love.” That was followed by a performance of Barrett Strong’s “Money” that almost blew the roof off of the place. The audience roared as Brother Zee sang lead and encouraged any women in the crowd that wanted to come up to the stage to dance to do so. Many women in the audience accepted the invitation, which led to a massive stage invasion featuring a lot of dancing as the band tore through the song. When it was over, Rubano asked the crowd to give Elwood and Brother Zee a hand, and an ear-splitting cheer erupted as the duo exited. They walked slowly offstage, waving to the crowd as they left. It was a fitting end to a phenomenal and very entertaining show.
The set list was as follows:
Soul Finger (intro, cover of song by The Bar-Kays)
Sweet Home Chicago (cover of song by Robert Johnson)
Hard To Handle (cover of song by Otis Redding)
300 Pounds (cover of song by Willie Dixon)
Flip, Flop & Fly (cover of song by Big Joe Turner)
36 x 22 x 36 (cover of song by Bobby “Blue” Bland)
Hey Bartender (cover of song by Floyd Dixon)
Rubber Biscuit (cover of song by The Chips)
Green Onions (cover of song by Booker T & the MGs)
Land of a Thousand Dances (cover of song by Chris Kenner)
Grits (Johnny Rubano on lead vocals)
Altar of Love (Jimmie Wood on lead vocals)
Dig Myself A Hole
B Movie Boxcar Blues (cover of song by Delbert McClinton)
(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman (Julie Delgado on lead vocals, cover of song by Carole King and Gerry Goffin)
She Caught The Katy (cover of song by Taj Mahal)
Soul Man (cover of song by Sam and Dave)
Everybody Needs Somebody To Love (cover of song by Solomon Burke)
Money (cover of song by Barrett Strong)