First, a disclaimer: I have been a fan of The Nightcats since “Little Charlie” Baty fronted the band in the 80’s.
Balancing this potential (but not actual) bias, however, was my lack of enthusiasm at the idea of venturing out, dateless, into the pouring rain on Saturday night to see them perform.
But venture I did.
I arrived at The Torch Club little after the beginning of the first set—which, by the way, lasted an amazingly energetic hour and fifteen minutes—and the place was already wall-to-wall people. I claimed the last empty barstool, and wished I’d dressed for the weather indoors, which was about ten degrees warmer than the nastiness outside. What little dance floor exists in front of the stage was crowded with couples, trios, and girls who just wanted to have fun. The Nightcats’ beat tends to be contagious, so there were a lot a lot of people sort of bouncing at bar tables, and, as the night wore on, clusters of people created small makeshift dance floors in various spots around the room.
The Torch Club is really the ideal venue for Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, old school and intimate, but able to draw a crowd as diverse as its Downtown neighbors. This night was no exception. The crowd ran the gamut from twenties to sixties, easily. There were girls in party dresses, and good old boys in cowboy hats. Bartenders slid everything from coffee drinks with four inches of whipped cream to vodka cranberries to countless bottles of beer across the bar.
Up front, Rick Estrin was a powerhouse on the harmonica, belting out songs from their longtime repertoire, engaging the audience in tunes like “Dump That Chump,” and also showcasing new material from an upcoming CD. Always slick in a signature sharkskin suit, Estrin played the crowd as smoothly as he played the harp. The most recent addition to the band, guitarist Chris “Kid” Andersen, who came from playing with Charlie Musselwhite, showed some crazy skills of his own. Strutting across the stage, hair flying, fingers on fire, he makes a more than fine showing in the position once held by the ban’s former front man, Little Charlie.
It’s true that I have a history with the Nightcats, first fronted by great guitar man Charlie Baty, and now in the title role, their long-time vocalist and harp player, Rick Estrin. But as with so many artists I have loved over a lifetime, every time I buy a ticket, I think, Is this going to be it? Is this the show that will be one too many? The one I wish I hadn’t seen? Or more accurately, heard? I’ve already experienced that show with a few of the bigger names, but Rick Estrin? Not even close.