Brewhouse blues

Rick Estrin & the Nightcats take over Feather Falls’ new microbrewery

Nightcats on the prowl in Oroville.

Nightcats on the prowl in Oroville.

Photo By Heather Gomes

Rick Estrin & the Nightcats, Friday, April 29, at Feather Falls Casino Brewing Co., Oroville

After an eight-month, $8.5 million construction project, Oroville’s Feather Falls Casino Brewing Co. opened for business last December and has since hosted numerous musical events in its 350-seat restaurant/entertainment facility.

The new showroom is a major improvement over the old one, which seemed to be designed more as a bingo parlor than a music venue. Among its many pleasures are improved sound and lighting systems, a nice big dance floor, much better seating and, for serious beer lovers, the casino’s own microbrewery. About the only drawback is that the music doesn’t start until 9:30 p.m., so as to allow the diners time to finish their meals. However, after the diners leave, the casino’s staff is most helpful in finding one a seat from which to enjoy the show.

Although I missed a couple of earlier casino shows (e.g., Roy Rogers and Chris Cain—both of which got rave reviews from my blues buddies), I couldn’t pass up a chance to dig Rick Estrin and his band again. I’ve been a huge fan of Estrin’s ever since the first time I saw him 26 years ago at the Palmz in Chico when he was in Little Charlie & the Nightcats. They used to tear up that place (and several others around town) on a regular basis. Charlie Baty gave up touring three years ago and handed leadership of the band—Lorenzo Farrell on bass and J. Hansen on drums—to Estrin. He chose guitarist Chris “Kid” Andersen, who brings a very different dynamic to the group.

Estrin, a terrific vocalist/harmonicist/songwriter and consummate showman, treated the semi-full house to two sets that featured a mix of songs from the nine CDs he and Baty made for Alligator Records and from his own band’s CD, 2009’s Twisted (also on Alligator).

One earlier classic was “Clothesline,” a Boogaloo and His Gallant Crew number about a guy shopping for some duds only to have his credit questioned and the sale go down in flames. This, as are some others in Estrin’s book, is a humorous monologue set to a relaxed tempo that enables the listener to appreciate the lyrics. Estrin loves to include several of what I call these “story songs” and his “Back From the Dead” (“Man, I was heartbroken/ chain smokin’/ hey, buddy, I ain’t jokin’/ I came this close to croakin’/ but now I’m back, back from the dead”) appropriately set to a lively beat, shares some of the same rhythmic elements that made early songs like “Poor Tarzan” and “Clothesline” such hits.

Estrin’s harp work is as good as it gets, as he constantly showed us, and Andersen is a superb guitarist whose solos not only jacked up Estrin but also drew whistles and cheers from the audience all night. Estrin encourages his sidemen to write for the band, and Andersen, who has a couple of instrumentals on Twisted, offered up something called “Taco Cobbler,” a tour de force that incorporated elements of surf and spaghetti-western themes and also featured Farrell (taking a break from his acoustic bass) on keyboard.

Another stunning number, “You Gonna Lie,” had echoes of “Mystery Train” and found Andersen briefly channeling Jimi Hendrix. Among the many highlights was a very relaxed “Never Trust a Woman” that Estrin proudly revealed had been covered by Little Milton, with more terrific accompaniment by Andersen and Farrell on organ. What a night!

Note: More Feather Falls Brewing Co. blues coming up: May 14 is the Blues & Brews Fest, an all-day event with Norton’s Knockouts (the late Norton Buffalo’s band), Big Mo & the Full Moon Band, Shane Dwight and Charlie Musselwhite; then on June 18, L.A.’s Café R&B returns.