The Todd Wolfe Band paid a visit to fans in Grand Rapids as their tour wound its way through the midwest.
The Todd Wolfe Band hit the Tip Top Deluxe Bar & Grill in Grand Rapids, Michigan on April 11th, 2014. The beauty of listening to a Todd Wolfe show is the depth of his musical career; a career spanning 30+ years honing and toning ‘his’ sound. I can only imagine the stacks of vinyl a young Wolfe ripped through back in the day: guitar in one hand setting the needle to his latest hero’s riff with the other, knowing exactly which groove to drop to so he didn’t have to wait to start. He’d play along, get pissed off because he screwed up part way through, reset the needle and practice again and again until it was pitch perfect.
Wolfe was the guy who went to a Rory Gallagher show in part to listen, but mostly to study. If you ever wanted to find him, find Gallagher and look three feet into the crowd. That was Wolfe absorbing every lick, every slide, every dance through a measure. He’d run home that night and try to emulate what he’d heard, get tired and fall asleep listening to vinyl again with Cream, The Hendrix Experience, The Stones, The Yardbirds, and of course the Beatles. That’s what you did in the 70’s pre-YouTube… hell, pre-MTV days. It’s the difference between hard-wiring and the scatter-brained referencing you might hear today.
So when I visited the Tip Top Deluxe Bar and Grill, I wasn’t surprised to find Wolfe cordial and accessible, The same went for his band-mates Roger Voss (drums) and Justine Gardner (bass). Pre-show, Wolfe meandered through the crowd signing a couple of autographs here and there for dedicated fans. He even sat down at one of the tables because he liked a guy’s vintage J. Geils Band concert T-shirt, launching into a story about an experience he had with J. Geils back in the day.
The band took the stage promptly at 9pm and Wolfe went straight to the bottleneck slide opening with Sunnyvale. I quickly shrugged off the vocal comparisons to Clapton and enjoyed the trio for what it is; deep and accomplished. Each member brings a full plate to the table, with instrument and voice, which makes them sound bigger than a three-piece. Choral harmonies are layered in 3rds and 5ths that might evoke a Fleetwood Mac-esque tone yet steeped in southern blues/rock.
My personal favorite was late in the first set, the gritty Forty Four, a slow and deliberate traditional blues/rock number with some ear popping solo work by Wolfe, once again tapping into a direct line to his influences. The first set concluded with Shake Your Hips, a nod to ZZ Top’s ‘La Grange’ that got everyone on the dance floor.
The second set opened with Ready for Love and Come What May, but took off with the radio friendly Day to Day, which again got the crowd to its feet. The night concluded with On the Run, a powerful upbeat number laced with Thorogood, Buddy Holly, BB King and Chuck Berry; at least to these ears.
Per the venue, the Tip Top Deluxe Bar and Grill might seem ordinary, but it isn’t. Sure it’s got that same corner stage with the same gray carpet and tired curtained backdrop. However, the acoustics in the room were ‘spot on’ considering the difficulties working in what is essentially a brick box with cement columns and copper plated ceilings. Kudos to whoever dragged those curtains all the way down the wall of giant paned windows to kill the upper end reflection. The food was phenomenal, the service speedy. Highly recommend.