When the Nighthawks kicked off a five-night stand at the Bayou last night with "Lonesome Train," they were already going full-throttle, and they barely slowed down at the stations of their repertoire. Pounding out their exuberant mix of rock and blues -- Blue Wave, they call it -- the Hawks capitalized on their assets (raucous instrumentals) and minimized their shortcomings (vocals).
The exemplary rhythm section of bassist Jan Zukowski and drummer Pete Ragusa gave a hard-rock accent to the electric blues sensibilities of harp player Mark Wenner and guitarist Jimmy Thackery. These last two achieved a blistering duality, a friendly contesting of solo space on such pavement pounders as Jimmy McCracklin's "Every Night and Every Day," Eddie Hinton's macho "Brand New Man" and a pair of rollicking revivals from the pen of '50s hipster Buddy Johnson -- "Pretty Girls and Cadillacs" and "Upside Your Head."
The Hawks' original material exposes their shortcomings in the vocal end. Wenner's clear shouting and Thackery's gruff delivery are perhaps best suited to the hard-driving material, but one sometimes feels the vocals are a reluctant bridge between the Hawks' powerhouse ensemble playing and individual's scintillating solos.
The Nighthawks maintain a classic bar-band approach, providing enough time to drink but not to think. The advantage, of course, is that a listener is too drained to protest the little failures after hours of guilty pleasures with such visceral, contemporary blues.