My friend Rebecca Wilson tried to find a pen to begin writing about it on a damp napkin - that's how great the music was at the Birch Street Bistro in Roslindale Thursday night. We both ended up writing reviews for our respective "lists" from memory. Aside from one song, I don't remember the set list. I just remember that i was damn glad i was there.
Birch Street Bistro
“Blues in the Village” Thursday nights at the Birch Street Bistro
14 Birch Street, Roslindale, MA 02131
"Common Ground" features bandleader Bill Walsh on guitar, Diane Gately on drums and Gary Barcus on bass. The band has been playing Thursdays at the Bistro for the past five years.
First set usually begins around 8:30 PM
May 31, 2012
The spontaneous combustion that engulfed the Birch Street Bistro Thursday night was a bonfire of massive musical proportions. "Sax" Gordon Beadle’s tenor sax spread the accelerant, singer Lisa Marie’s lungs applied the oxygen, Johnny Juxo’s keyboard lit the match, and Bill Walsh’s tight trio “Common Ground” fanned the flames for the better part of three sets at this unlikely hotbed of music tucked into gentrified Roslindale Square.
9 PM. The first bawling notes of Beadle’ s sax shut down every conversation in the house for a moment.
Beadle doesn’t just wail on that horn. He cradles it, rocks it, dips it, sways with it and channels the groove with joyously sinuous body language. He makes that horn squeal, honk, bray, beseech, beg and seduce. Hey, we’re three minutes into the set and Beadle’s infectious energy sets the tone. Even patrons with a tin ear are on notice that this is gonna be a night to be reckoned with whether you’re on the dance floor or trying to sit still in your seat.
John "Juxo" DiTomasso, frizzy hair sticking out from the black fedora perched atop his head, sings some great boogie-woogie and blues from his seat at the electric piano. The man has a playful style and great chops on the keys. If I closed my eyes, I would have sworn I was in Louisiana when Johnny brought out his accordion and pitched a New Orleans style song with Gordon and the band swapping solos behind him.
This. Was. Really. Hot. Stuff.
And it got better.
My jaw dropped when Lisa Marie walked to the mic. This woman is a natural born blues belter. Great husky voice, impeccable timing and phrasing, and a repertoire of saucy sexy songs sung at full throttle or with a soulful drag. Except for a couple of songs written by Johnny Luxo, Lisa Marie sang covers. But be clear. Lisa Marie does not imitate. She creates. You’ll recognize the lyrics but damn, that throaty and sassy voice, that’s all Lisa Marie.
The ensemble tore the place apart with a cover of Van Morrison’s “Into The Mystic.” Keyboardist Juxo, lead guitar Walsh, Beadle’s tenor sax, and Lisa Marie emoting from some mystical place in her big heart, traded miraculously lyrical solos. This is one of the best live band moments I’ve ever experienced.
A split second after the song’s last beat, the Birch Street Bistro went nuts. The gray haired woman sitting at the bar was on her feet, arms raised in salute, her ponytailed husband, a dozen men with sleeveless biker jackets and tattooed arms, and the rest of the regulars from thirty-something on up were shouting as if in a revival meeting tent. “That was the best version of 'Into The Mystic' I’ve heard my whole life!” one woman shouted ecstatically.
The Birch Street Bistro is the Clark Kent of local venues minus the phone booth. For most of the week it’s a handsomely renovated local hangout with good food and a good vibe. Then there’s Thursday night.
No stage. No risers for the band. No separation from the patrons. Instead of a phone booth, the bistro owner removes a couple of tables from the front corner and Walsh on guitar, Gary Barcus on bass, and Diane Gately on drums, take it from there.
Who needs a red cape? Common Ground band leader Bill Walsh assembles a guest list of musical talent. Popular local singers, songwriters, musicians of every stripe are featured every Thursday and more of them show up unannounced to jam with the band for the late sets.
Blues stylist Diane Blue, guitar man Big Jack Ward, local singers Bobby Mac, and a redheaded singer named Alison who swiveled like Gypsy Rose Lee when she was not singing, plus men named Dave and Roscoe who sat in at drums all took a turn singing or playing.
I’ve been here four times. The first time was fabulous. This one was dynamite. Every Thursday won’t be a barn-burner but I can guarantee that you’ll hear solid music every time.
Note #1 to dancers: The “dance floor” is a small space one step inside the front door and right next to the band. There’s always room to dance, even if you have to maneuver around people entering or carting ‘take out’ food from the bistro.
Note #2 to dancers: Most of the regulars are listeners, fewer are dancers so bring your own dance partner. I would have been devastated if not for my friends Rebecca and Nicki, who both love to dance.
There’s nothing like dancers to add to the glorious energy from the band. Last night at the Birch Street Bistro, whether you danced or listened, you heard one of the best sets for spirited live music you'll hear this year.