Music review: Blotto-influenced bands regroup and rock out

Bad news: Blotto didn’t appear on Sunday at Music Haven in a revue of 1980s Albany bands, billed as
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Bad news: Blotto didn’t appear on Sunday at Music Haven in a revue of 1980s Albany bands, billed as a Blotto Records Reunion. Main songwriter Broadway Blotto was sick.

Good news: The four bands who made the gig played in the giant shadow Blotto cast in their heyday by echoing their influence to more than just nostalgic effect. Blotto showed how to be funny and still rock. And Blotto members helped staff the other bands on Sunday.

First up, the Amazing Rob & John Band featured a borrowed rhythm section with drummer F. Lee Harvey Blotto behind the early-Beatles-esque folk-rock duo Rob & John in a four-song set that sprang from “Ronald Reggae” — a witty reggae song about Reagan that still packs a progressive political punch — and built to the rousing “Run Away, Follow Me.” Rob introduced their set as “live, from 1985,” but their songs held up well.

Next up, the Sharks: once a bristling, horn-powered R&B combo, now a four-piece led by keyboardist Michael Kelley, a Shark back then, now a member of the reconstituted Blotto. Keying basslines, chords and melodies, singing all the leads, Kelley carried the set, until Blotto band-mates Sergeant Blotto and Bowtie Blotto chimed in on harmonica and banjo, respectively. Even before those guys came on, the four Sharks made a mighty sound, and the four-piece version finished strong with “Arm in Arm,” a vintage track of self-deprecating R&B about a courtship that went surprisingly well for its modest protagonist.

Johnny Rabb sounded perhaps least dated of all by charging decades farther back in time than the 1980s, to rockabilly and romance, 1950s-style. All swagger and pompadour, in impossibly tight jeans, he promised “Good Rockin’ Tonight” and delivered, with the Blotto rhythm section powering this hot-rod — Rabb steering and guitarist Scotty Mac playing like an overheated radio tuned to rockabilly, 1956.

The Penny Knight Band members live in five different cities and reunited via websites, but they played the most unified and impressive set of the night. If Johnny Rabb and his Jailhouse Rockers looked like the guys Baby Boomers’ moms warned their daughters about, Knight’s crew could have been accountants at a rock fantasy camp.

With Knight’s powerhouse voice at the center of their proud, loud, retro sound, they projected arena-rock muscle through crisp ensemble playing, electric might and songs built to blast. Everything went big, then sometimes bigger, even the ballad “You Put the Fire Back in My Heart” about love’s return. They hit with prog-rock complexity, but also big soulfulness, an impressive return to action by a band dormant for nearly three decades.

Categories: Entertainment, Life and Arts

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