Few blues names are as recognized on the pop culture front as those of Jake and Elwood Blues, the fictional brother team created by comedians John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd who became stars of both the big screen and recording world after getting their start as a musical act on TV’s Saturday Night Live. Inspired by brothers Donnie and Hock Walsh of Canada’s Downchild Blues Band, as well as such other bluesmen as Curtis Salgado, John Lee Hooker, and Sam and Dave, the duo recorded two albums (Briefcase Full of Blues and Made in America) in addition to the soundtrack from the hit movie that followed them on their “mission from God” before Belushi’s death in 1982.
Three decades later, the Blues Brothers continue to live on in the form of the Official Blues Brothers Revue, which we were fortunate enough to catch at Pittsburgh’s Byham Theater last week. Sanctioned by both Ackroyd and the Belushi estate, the revue stars Wayne Catania and Kieron Lafferty as Jake and Elwood, respectively, backed by an energetic and superb six-piece band and background/featured vocalist Arnae’ Batson. Together, they shuffled and danced their way – in classic Blues Brothers fashion – through songs from all three albums, accompanied by short bits and quips from the film.
You could hear from the opening “Peter Gunn” that the Intercontinental Blues Revue Band was a tight one, with Jake and Elwood taking the stage to their signature “Can’t Turn You Loose” before belting out a “Hey Bartender” that gave Elwood/Lafferty his first real chance to show his chops on harmonica. Other highlights of the first act included a “Sweet Home Chicago” that saw Elwood also taking a turn on vocals, the slow “Shotgun Blues,” a terrific performance of The Chips’ “Rubber Biscuit” from Elwood, and a dedication to Cab Calloway (the movie’s “Curtis”) in “Minnie the Moocher.” Of course, some Blues Brothers numbers naturally lend themselves to audience participation, with neither the cast nor the crowd disappointing on “Land of 1000 Dances” or the second act’s “Shout.”
Also particularly noteworthy during the evening’s second half were the slick instrumental “Green Onions,” a “Messin’ with the Kid” that featured both Elwood on harmonica and Kory Montgomery on guitar, Jake’s duet with stand-up bassist Garrett Jones on “Guilty,” Batson taking lead vocals on a sax-filled “Man’s World,” and a shuffling “Flip, Flop and Fly” that again spotlighted Elwood’s skill on harp and, along with the aforementioned “Shout,” helped lead to the closing “Soul Man.”
Though certainly solid enough, Catania’s smooth vocals often lacked the grittiness to which we’re accustomed from Belushi. Otherwise, these two very much look and sound the part, as many will have a chance to see when the pair continues their roles in an upcoming TV series. Even without any car chases or run-ins with the Fuzz, the Official Blues Brothers Revue makes for one entertaining show!
Photos courtesy of Pittsburgh Cultural Trust