“This ain’t no punk show!” Jake Morton shrieks at the assembled ne’er-do-wells of Jay’s Upstairs. Eyeing individuals with equal parts menace and mirth, Morton screams again, “This ain’t no rawk show! This is sooouuul music!”
Just as he finishes making this mission statement, the Rhythm and Booze Soul Revue launch into the rest of the “Keno Medley,” their ode to that fickle electronic mistress. Morton and fellow guitarist Chuck Johnson begin to spar with one another on their guitars, trading licks effortlessly, smiling as they alternately toy with the spigot of pure riffage. Grimacing through all the din, Jay Ward seems to be trying to beat some demons only he sees lurking just under the skins of his drums.
This is soul music, but it is the soul music playing on the headphones of the four horsemen.
Undoubtedly, the R & B Soul Revue have found great success mixing up soul standards with their immense talent on their axes, using their “hot lixx” to great effect. But the gymnastics aren’t just an ostentatious display of rock-god wankery; after all this is a soul band. It’s soul band for the end of the world, one that just happens to rock harder than most rock bands, and because of this, Johnson says, “We had to push the guitars up to the front. I mean, it’s really all about the music.”
“Yeah,” Morton chimes in, “but luckily enough, we make a fortune doing it.”
Morton, who gets cagey when asked about his past, finds solace when his notes go where eagles dare. You can tell Morton has reached this state of musical perfection once his face contorts wildly, his lips moving with the trills and hammer-ons, his mouth opened wide when the string is bent almost to breaking. “You can’t play leads without making the faces,” Morton earnestly declares.
Complementing Morton, Charles Johnson is the ultimate prodigy, a Karate Kid to Morton’s Mr. Myagi. The illegitimate son of Mick Taylor, Johnson is probably closest to Angus Young in sheer economy of riffage, but his pedigree is sure to take him to previously unheard levels of rock mastery. Like Morton, Johnson is also a tortured genius, but he hides it behind a nearly perpetual grin once onstage.
Where Morton and Johnson are tortured, Jay Ward is clearly a torturer. His youth squandered in delinquent centers, Ward, demented like his comrades, seems to find his only comfort in music. Or more likely, he just likes to beat the crap out of stuff. Whatever the case may be, he commits this appalling violence with a surprising degree of fluidity and rhythm.
But what does all this twisted violence and maddened ranting really add up to? Are these the songs that will echo in our heads once the silos give up their missiles to the sky, the reactors melt down, the power goes out and New Year’s horizon is lit by the terrible glow of humankind’s folly?
Good God, I hope so.
See the Rhythm & Booze Soul Revue at Jay’s Upstairs this Friday at 10 p.m.