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Maltese serves up eclectic night of honky-tonk, punk, blues, chamber pop and Americana

Ryan Davidson at the Maltese.

Ryan Davidson at the Maltese.

Photo by carey wilson

Big Mo Quartet, Ryan Davidson, Growwler and Jimmy Reno, Wednesday, July 29, Maltese Bar & Tap Room.

“Hi, I’m Jimmy Reno! I drink and I curse, and the more I drink, the more I curse.” Coming as a good-natured shout from a big tattooed dude toting a steel resonator guitar and clad in leopard-skin pedal-pushers, sleeveless shirt and punk-rock creepers, this declaration kicked off the Wednesday night (July 29) show at the Maltese Bar & Tap Room with a punkish, honky-tonk vibe. With songs like “I’m a Man” and “Guitar Hero Can Suck My Balls,” Reno’s bashed-out set channeled and (one hopes) ironically commented on the sort of social energy one might find on the sidelines of a frat-house beer-pong party just before the last keg runs dry.

It was a raucous beginning for a very eclectic bill, and was followed by seasoned local bluesman Maurice “Big Mo” Huffman stepping onto the stage with his Full Moon Quartet. He was aided by former Troggs guitarist Richard Moore, a genius of guitar tone and phrasing; bassist Jeff Rosso, who formerly toured with blues great Charlie Musselwhite; and seasoned local drummer “Super” Dave Breed. The group presented an appreciative crowd—which included all of the evening’s other musicians—with a wide-ranging set of original blues and Southern rock that demonstrated beyond any doubt that consummate professionalism and fiery musical passion are complementary qualities.

As the newest addition to the band, Breed kept on his toes throughout the hour-long set. Maintaining eye contact with and taking musical and dynamic cues from each player, he supported every nuance of the songs with subtle rhythmic precision. And Moore obviously enjoyed working his guitar magic with such superb companions. His lead playing wove supportively around Huffman’s powerful vocals and soared with inventive melodies during instrumental passages that showed off Huffman’s lead skills as well. Ending their set with a slow groove, Huffman and band left an enthralled crowd with a reminder of the grace and power of the blues.

After a quick stage makeover, San Francisco’s self-proclaimed “art rock/chamber pop/weirdo” band Growwler brought an entirely different form of musical ingenuity to the stage. During the course of their 40-minute set, the quartet delivered a bounty of artfully orchestrated pop songs that intersected however tangentially the same musical territory explored by a wide range of bands—XTC, Modest Mouse and Scissor Sisters come to mind—in demonstrating the infinite variability of the pop multiverse.

It was up to Chico’s Ryan Davidson and band to cap the evening’s convocation of styles with a late-night set of heartfelt songs about whiskey-drinking, loving and overcoming—or at least seeing beyond—personal hardship. The normally solo player was backed by a trio of well-known local players—drummer Daniel Taylor (Cold Blue Mountain, West by Swan), bassist Daniel Nelson and accompanying vocalist Katrina Rodriguez (The Rugs, Duffy’s Sirens).

Davidson played a moody but energized selection of original Americana songs sung with a timbre and declarative power reminiscent of Social Distortion’s Mike Ness. With simply picked and strummed guitar providing the prominent instrumental element, unembellished by electric guitar or keyboards, Davidson’s songs evoked universal emotions with lyrical poetry and sincere singing.

Closing with the slow-burning title song of his latest album, A Wick Burning High, Davidson and Rodriguez’ voices generated a feeling of the camaraderie and sentiment of friends who might not see each other for a while, but who will “keep a light on in the window.” A nice note on which to end a great evening.