At times, the Highline Ballroom stage looked as packed as the house for the Feb. 7 show of Mad Dogs & Dominos, a tribute to soul, blues and rock ‘n’ roll classics. Featuring an 18-piece band that would max out my word count if I had to name them all, the night was a non-stop rollout of exquisite musicianship.
“It’s hip shakin’ time out there on a Friday night. Don’t make me come out there and get you!” the Beehive Queen Christine Ohlman warned, kicking off the night’s festivities.
Ohlman and Elaine Caswell’s cover of “Keep on Growin’” quickly got people on their feet, and the energy stayed high throughout the two-and-a-half hour show.
“There are no backup singers here; just leads who choose to be in the back,” the announcer noted. Proving his point, James “D-Train” Williams moved to the lead mic. Williams’ gospel-inspired renditions of “With A Little Help From My Friends” and Billy Preston’s “That’s the Way God Planned It,” the latter featuring guitarist/ukulele maestro/singer Jim Boggia brought a spiritual connection to the night’s rollicking good time.
Tawatha Agee, another of the night’s “backup” singers, brought down the house with the Staple Singers’ “Respect Yourself,” which did right by the Staples and brought the energy of the Queen of Soul herself.
Marc Copley and Jim Boggia’s exquisite duet on “Bell Bottom Blues” benefitted from the “stripped down” band (only nine members as opposed to the night’s average of 16!) and featured soulful vocals that belied the artists’ youth, as well as killer guitar solos.
An unannounced guest, Marc Cohn, showed up to share vocal duties with keyboardist Brian Mitchell on “Out in the Woods.” Cohn’s vocals contrasted nicely with Mitchell’s raspy, throaty style, building up to a rocking keyboard solo and a climax that brought in the entire band while bringing down the house.
It’s hard to pinpoint a highlight of such a star-studded show, but British legend Lulu’s three-song set capped by a mature, still soulful “To Sir With Love,” sounded just as good as when she debuted it 47 years ago. Playing on the 50th anniversary of the Beatles’ American debut, Lulu reflected back on her career, which is also turning 50 this year. “You know, I should’ve been born in New York. I fucking love it!” she said before launching into Solomon Burke’s “Cry to Me.”
The night ended with a transcendent rendering of “Let’s Go Get Stoned,” and the audience left with the special buzz that only a night of first-rate music brings.
– Ben Wright