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Live Review and Photo Gallery: The Rick Holmstrom Band at SPACE • Evanston

| December 1, 2023

The Rick Holmstrom Band

Thursday, November 30, 2023

SPACE, Evanston, IL

Review and photos by Jeff Elbel.

For music fans with boundary-bypassing tastes running through jazz, blues, roots, soul, folk, swamp-rock, R&B and gospel, Evanston’s SPACE was the place to be on a drizzly Thursday evening. California guitarist Rick Holmstrom brought his expert rhythm section of bassist Greg Boaz and drummer Steve Mugalian to town for a wide-ranging set including songs from 2022’s instrumental album Get It!, 2021’s lockdown escape See That Light, and choice covers.

Holmstrom admitted that the band was a bit fried, having just arrived from the airport. Sometimes the gigs where youre a little loopy are the best ones, he said.

SPACE soon became Tone Central. The sound of Holmstrom’s Fender Telecaster was bathed in heavenly reverb and moody tremolo, as the guitarist coaxed expressive notes with his bare fingers. There were times when Holmstrom got rowdy with paint-peeling riffs, but more often he held the audience in rapt attention with subtle notes and intense passages of quiet melodies when you could practically hear a pin drop. Mugalian and Boaz joined Holmstrom intuitively in these hushed passagesand played a number of live fade-outs to dramatic effect.

In addition to captivating instrumental pieces like Looky Here, the Chuck Berrymeets-the-Ventures workout Surfer Chuck, the dreamy Luellie, and Robyns Romp,Holmstrom sang songs including the stir-crazy reflection “Losing My Shit.Holmstroms rockabilly stomper Waiting Too Long was a fine fit for fans of Dave Edmunds or The Blasters.

The trio performed odes to Jimmy Reed (“Caress Me Baby”) and Howlin’ Wolf, and put a reggae spin on Merle Haggards Running Kind. Holmstrom was an affable host, dispensing stories and anecdotes during any break. Before pausing to tune, he offered a quip from the boss at his main gig, Its like Mavis [Staples] said, Rick, you are making a fool out of that guitar.

Holmstroms cavalcade of stars for the evening included Chicago-based jazz/blues guitarist and Delmark recording artist Dave Specter. The pair traded riffs and licks on songs including Los Lobos I Got Loaded.” The band was also augmented by the dynamite voices of Saundra Williams and local hero Kelly Hogan. The band accompanied Williams’ original song “Blocked Ex Blues” about cringing at the sight of a former lover’s number on caller ID. Hogan remarked that it was “the most relatable blues song I’ve ever heard.” Williams also led a rousing version of Allen Toussaints encouraging Yes We Can Can.

Hogan offered Nick Lowe’s simmering “Homewrecker.” “You look like you could take candy from a baby,” she sang. “I’ve seen you do it.” She also sang the country blues classic Drunkard Blues by Bob Wills and His Texas Playboys. The block of tastefully curated covers followed with a stirring run through Lucinda Williams pining Still I Long for Your Kiss.

For anyone who didn’t know, the combo’s primary reason for being in town became plain as the set concluded with a clutch of classic gospel songs from the Staple Singers catalog. The uplifting “City in the Sky” celebrated peace and glory to come in the hereafter. The folkstyle “Are You Sure” exhorted listeners to have a care for neighbors in need. Pops’ Staples’ gospel blues single “Friendship” described devotion to a friend down on his luck, who had once carried the songwriter through hard times. When Holmstrom veered into a rare bum note during the song, Williams merely smiled and said, “Live music!”

Williams and Hogan got the crowd singing along to the joyful “Heavy Makes You Happy (ShaNaBoomBoomYeah)” to close the evening. Many in the room were surely ready to hear Holmstrom’s trio, Williams, and Hogan perform a few of these songs on Friday night as Mavis Staples’ band for the A Concert for Justice event at Cahn Auditorium benefitting the James B. Moran Center for Youth Advocacy.

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Category: IE Photo Gallery, Live Reviews

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