I hadn’t seen a show at Austin’s Paramount Theatre in quite a while, and I’d never seen Christone “Kingfish” Ingram live. With so many tours on hold and venues just only returning to some semblance of regularity, so many up-and-coming acts have paused their ascent to prominence by force or by prudence. Saturday night’s auditorium was abuzz with the anticipation of finally coming “ear-to-face” with one of blues’s most promising prospects.
In the palpable excitement, I—and I assume much of the audience—forgot that the evening’s show featured a rather formidable undercard to kickoff the festivities. The Peterson Brothers, while not new to astute hometown audiences such as Austin, have only recently begun to gain some rightly-deserved national attention on par with their musical prowess. They wasted no time in informing the faithful that they were in for a double-feature—two headliners for the price of one.
With Glenn on guitar and brother Alex on bass, the power-funk-trio displayed a telepathic connection as they jammed through a few songs, alternating between rock, blues, and funk. With talent to spare, they roused the audience with their visible joy in playing live, and their spontaneous synchronized dancing, which would have felt like showing-off if not for its natural effortlessness. Their rendition of “Take Me to The River” was a highlight for the crowd unfamiliar with the group. It is a safe bet that not too far in the future The Peterson Brothers will be back at The Paramount, with their name on top of the marquee.
As pleased as fans were with the appetizer, the crowd erupted when Kingfish appeared on stage, joining his outstanding band. A suitable, but unnecessary introduction, he eagerly tore into 662’s “She Calls Me Kingfish,” and wasted no time continuing on to “Fresh Out” and the poignant, “Another Life Goes By.” After torching Michael “Iron Man” Burks’s “Empty Promises,” he apologized for the ending barrage of mellifluous sounds, coaxed from his guitar.
“I apologize for the flurry of notes. Sometimes people on YouTube complain.”
The crowd quickly offered their support and encouragement not to pay heed to the know-nothings of the net. The vast majority of the night’s playing focused on quality, not quantity. Any aficionado would have deciphered this. And indeed, this was a seasoned blues crowd. It’s a delight to be among a group that spends their time listening to the music as opposed to checking their Instagram accounts. I got that sense before the show from the guys to my right discussing the merits of the guitars on stage, and the women to my left asking me which venues are a must-see when they travel to Chicago.
It had been a while since I’d witnessed a broken string on stage, and I’ve never seen the relaxed effort in which a bandleader handled it. The confidence in his band apparent, he signaled to the band to take as many bars as needed and took the opportunity to head off stage for a quick breather, only to return in the aisle of the auditorium. From there he walked through the crowd, playing in different areas of the theatre for the better part of ten minutes. The audience was both dumbfounded and ecstatic.
The set combined a rather balanced mix of both the new 662 and Kingfish. Neither the man nor the band took a song, or even a minute off, and it bears mentioning the incredible energy and synchronization that the backing trio brought to the party. They sounded as if they’d been playing together for a decade as opposed to a young outfit coming off of a long respite.
After twelve solid numbers, Kingfish indulged the crowd in its request for more by bringing out The Peterson Brothers for a collaborative version of The Spinners’s “I’ll Be Around.” The song fit the ensemble perfectly, and the crowd showed their appreciation by participating in an enjoyable call and response with the band. Perhaps the highlight of the night was the closing medley of “Catfish Blues,” “Long Distance Woman,” and a reggae-tinged visitation of “Hey Joe.”
Great songs, high energy, and stellar guitar would have been apparent to anyone within earshot on Congress Avenue and the crowd inside likely expected as much heading into the show. A bit more subtle were the intangibles that separate the good concerts from the great. The musicians played with fervor and their interactions with the audience created a warm and inviting positive feedback loop of energy. The intimate but tactful ambiance of The Paramount Theatre helped as well.
As for Kingfish…he seems to possess an innate knowledge of both the past and the future of the blues. His effortless command of the medium attests to the former, while his grasp of the latter is a bit more nuanced. Donning his own merchandise feels natural for him, whereas it might seem self-aggrandizing on another artist who isn’t nearly as earnest and honest as Mr. Ingram. In fact, it would have felt odd had he not been wearing the hip-but-understated “KNG-FSH” shirt. He appeared as comfortable playing in the crowd around complete strangers as he did on stage, and for all the thousands of pictures that were taken this past evening, the one that really stood out was the selfie that he took with the adoring thousands in attendance before he called it a night.
Kingfish honors the past without betraying the 22-year-old enthusiasm that he embodies. The man loves what he does, and he equally loves the people who love what he does. Perhaps this is what the future of the blues looks like.