Tuesday night's concert at Artpark was, in many ways, a blues guitar throw-down between two good friends, each with his own awesome set of chops and with an individual approach to playing their instruments that caused jaws to drop among some of the more appreciative members of the crowd. They were the kind of folks who usually jam themselves up near the stage at events like this to better see how the magic was done and still come away amazed.
Yes, it was a night for plectrum pyrotechnics, but it was also a night for appreciating the differences between two masterly musicians and the way they approached their art.
But first, some background. Carlos Montoya and Walter Trout used to play together as members of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, but each of them took different roads to get to that point. Montoya began his career as a drummer, working with guitar legend Albert Collins, who encouraged his protege to pick up the guitar. Trout's own apprenticeship included stints with Big Mama Thornton and John Lee Hooker before joining Canned Heat just prior to getting the call from Mayall.
Together, they helped make their edition of the Bluesbreakers one of the most exciting outfits to play under Mayall's banner. Trout took care of the outrageously flamboyant solos, while Montoya's rhythm riffing and succinct leads served as a distinct contrast. In many ways, this was a showcase for the differences.
Trout, who opened up the program, is an incredible technician whose flying fingers don't even bother with warming the guitar up with a bit of foreplay. In fact, most of the time it seemed as if his left hand rarely visited the area on the guitar neck north of the seventh fret. He was a lot of show and a lot of go, with a small side of subtlety just to prove he could do it. It was all very impressive.
Still, it was as if his sidemen (bassist Rick Knapp, keyboard player Sammy Avila and drummer Joe Pafumi) didn't need to be there for any other reason that to provide a basic pulse. Avila certainly didn't make a strong case for being anything more than competent, and Pafumi's egregiously long drum solo during the last song in Trout's set was overly involved with theatrics and the kind of thing that would probably have had most of Muddy Waters' drummers (most of whom knew when to get in and out of a solo with impressive brevity) wondering who let the rocker up on the stand.
Montoya, on the other hand, was a better singer and, while he made sure that his soloing was front and center much of the time, it didn't appear that he needed to be the main focus all of the time. Keyboard player Dover Weinberg served as the alternate soloist and proved to be a more than adequate foil for the guitarist.