When I got up to the counter, the computer system locked up. The desk clerk quickly transformed into a gibbering idiot and obviously could not cope with a high-pressure situation. When he finally got us checked in and gave me the room key, he told me the room was straight south on that side of the building. WRONG! It was on the north side of the building. When I tried the key in the room door, the door would not open. Luckily, some boozy friendlies came by and offered assistance. "These keys are alllll-messhhed up," slurred my hopped-up helper. He then demonstrated his finesse in getting past the motel's cranky locks. Who says chivalry is dead?
We entered what would later become a little chamber of horrors, but meanwhile, I had a concert to get to.
With only a few minutes to spare, my sister and I quickly unloaded our luggage and freshened up as best we could. We arrived at the casino moments before the show was supposed to start. More trouble ensued when I went to the will call window to pick up the tickets I had purchased with my credit card a week earlier. I was begining to feel like I was being punished for bad karma. After more delay they finally gave me the tickets. I was then successful in getting my media pass and headed off to the Atlantis Room to enjoy the show.
The music turned out to be the only saving grace of the night.
The Chris Duarte Group opened the show with a high energy set that whetted the appetites of the near-capacity crowd of weekend warriors. Duarte is a fluid ax-man and accomplished at creating an easy rapport with his audience with his good-humored banter between songs. Although I was not familiar with Duarte's sound before I caught his live performance, he quickly won me over with his exhilarating style of guitar playing. The songs in his set were upbeat and had heads bobbing throughout the room from the get-go.
The expectation of what was to come later in the evening was kicked up a notch when Mato Nanji, the front man for the group Indigenous joined Duarte on stage for several numbers. The two guitarists obviously enjoyed jamming with each other and gave the audience a double dose of scorching blues-rock guitar licks.
Duarte is a Texan and a veteran of the Austin music scene. His influences are Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, Miles Davis, John Coltrane and John McLaughlin. In 1995 he earned the distinction of being named the "best new talent" in Guitar Player magazine's reader's poll and was placed in the No. 4 position in Guitar World's "Best Blues Guitarist" category just behind Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy and B.B. King. In other words, the man has some major talent.
Unfortunately, the acoustics in the Atlantis Room were not kind to Duarte's sound system. The volume was cranked up too high and created too much distortion. Duarte has a pleasing voice, a wealth of original material and gets physically involved in performing. I doubt many of those present in the audience Friday were familiar with Duarte's music but I'm certain he won over some new admirers.
After a break, the headliners took the stage for what was one of the best blues sets I have ever had the pleasure to hear.
Since the 1998 release of their highly acclaimed "Things We Do," Indigenous has wowed critics and wooed a legion of fans with soulful and pounding original songs. They play with a sophistication that belies their youth, and the fact the four group members are Native American only adds to their mystique.
It is no small wonder Mato Nanji (Standing Bear) has been compared to the legendary Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn. Watching him on stage, it is apparent he is one of those fortunate individuals who is doing what he was born to do. He plays with abandon and appears to do a Vulcan mind-meld with his instrument. It doesn't hurt that he is also easy on the eyes. Remember his name. You are going to be hearing more about this young man.
I was equally impressed by Mato's sister, Wanbdi. She is a tight and solid drummer and should have had the chance to do a solo. She was awesome.