Big Head Todd and the Monsters – Paramount Theatre, Rutland, VT 8/15/15 (SHOW REVIEW)

On the evening of August 15 at Rutland Vermont’s beautiful Paramount Theatre, Big Head Todd and The Monsters played a set of pure rock and roll music best described as an exercise in the power of understatement. And not just in comparison to the opening performance of JJ Grey & Mofro: the Colorado-based quartet proved how an insinuating approach to playing music live can be the catalyst for its most resounding impact.

Not to disparage frontman Todd Park Mohr, or his other bandmates, but bassist Rob Squires’ contributions might be a microcosm of that dynamic. His playing on a beautiful five-string instrument  generated a low, linear rumble that often shook the floor of the edifice itself, while his background singing  might be described as nondescript had his voice not filled holes that otherwise might’ve left the sound wanting. Likewise, the tuneful tones Jeremy Lawton’s keyboards lent to the mix: unlike the searing effect of the occasional lap-steel guitar he  played (sometimes simultaneous with other instruments), ringing piano notes lent elegance, while the occasional surge of Hammond organ through the revolving Leslie speaker balanced the emphatic accents of drummer Brian Nevin.

And that emphasis on the songs, such as “Bittersweet,” highlighted Todd Park Mohr’s originals  as one of the distinguishing factors in the success of BHTM.No question the leader loves to play the guitar and, smiling ever so broadly, becomes immersed in the moment whether he’s playing rhythm figures to outline the tune or soloing in a fashion that can bring to mind Charlie Christian or Eric Clapton. Much like Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, he clearly knows the value of a good number like “Josephina”  as a means to focus musicianship and  express personal emotion (little wonder BHTM covered  the Stones’ “Beast of Burden” on 2010’s Rocksteady).

Big Head Todd is nothing if not sly in his singing—early on including a quick passing reference to the town in which  he was playing—but also in the consistently light touch he applies to his instrument, as on “Imaginary Ships.”  And even the crunching electric guitar at the heart of  “New World Rising,” an original (sic) song based on a Charley Patton blues tune, wasn’t  heavy-handed, despite the fact it was louder and more distorted than most of his other guitar work.

Still, BHTM did not  play a truly great set at the Paramount because they ascended to a certain level of intensity, yet never moved beyond it as the set evolved, then closed somewhat abruptly (perhaps due to curfew?) before a double encore. As they inspired many audience members to dance, all around the venue (to the chagrin of some who preferred to remain seated),  the quartet left their audience satiated, but no doubt slightly hungry for more. As a result, the concert was much like the rainbow across the sky, outside the theater, just before the show began: wondrous to behold in the moment, in the long run, a vivid memory.

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