POSTED ON SEPTEMBER 8, 2010:
In the Zone
Big Head Todd and the Monsters prove to be rock steady after two decades on the road
As an admitted fan of Big Head Todd and the Monsters, I have to say that once I returned to Tulsa more than 10 years ago, I expected more opportunities to see the band here than I did in Indiana. After all, the band is based out of Boulder, Colo. -- only a state away -- and anyone familiar with the band's style would agree that band should fit in easily here. A straight-up rock band with an easy blend of rock and blues and a laid-back attitude, The Monsters epitomize most of the elements that defined the classic "'70s sound."
Sure, the band can cut loose with a killer jam, but it's really more song oriented than improvisation based. And although much of what the band does is undeniably blues based, there's always been an openness and eclectic factor that allowed the group to swing between scenes and genres -- all similar to what we've seen in the past and are experiencing again here in T-Town.
Perhaps it's appropriate then that after scarcely an appearance over the past 10 years, Big Head Todd and the Monsters reappear in Tulsa this Monday night, Sept. 13, in support of the band's latest (and 11th) album, the appropriately titled Rocksteady.
Over the years, Big Head Todd and the Monsters have had to overcome perceptions as a jam band -- a label that has had its benefits and drawbacks. When speaking with guitarist/singer/songwriter Todd Park Mohr last week, he addressed the jam band factor, sharing that he found it interesting that the group was lumped into the jam band category because "I always considered us more song-oriented and less jam-oriented. On the other hand, we are from Boulder and as such, have always had a special synergy with the jam audience."
While the band hasn't really denied those ties or tried to separate itself from that scene, it didn't fully embrace the genre either, focusing more on succinct songwriting and a strong live show. Even so, the ties are still there.
"As the years have gone by, we're still interested in the jam audience," Mohr said, "but I think it's more in the same manner as Robert Randolph, The Black Keys or Warren Haynes -- some of the people that fall more on the blues end of that genre."
Admittedly, Mohr's focus over the years has been more on songwriting, and his gift has been two fold as he's one of the rare writers that is able to find a hook in both the music and his lyrics, each often having something that catches your ear and rattles around in your head for days.
Even though he has focused primarily on his songwriting, he admits that although he'd like to consider himself a better songwriter, he's not always sure he has accomplished that.
"I'm a better singer and guitar player for sure," he shared, "and I think I've become better at writing for my voice." His challenge, however, has been in continuing to push the envelope with his writing and allowing the band's reach to be fairly eclectic without losing direction or focus.
The band's latest disc, Rocksteady, is it's most focused in years, finding a slow, smoldering groove and locking in for the duration. Part of that comes from writing around 30 songs then finding a direction from there.
According to Mohr, he split out the more Caribbean and R&B sounding songs with a more low key approach for Rocksteady, giving it the more grounded and even-keel tone that carries throughout. Meanwhile, the more hard rocking material all links together for the band's next album, which is already in the planning stages.
Before then, however, Mohr is working on a blues project -- a tribute to Robert Johnson -- with Hubert Sumlin, Cedric Burnside and Honeyboy Edwards, with The Monsters acting as the house band. Mohr is eyeing a release in early 2011 with a February tour to coincide with it. In the meantime, however the band is on tour in support of Rocksteady and reacquainting itself with audience in cities such as Tulsa as well as hitting all of the old staples.
Mohr is particularly excited with the current tour as the band is already gaining traction with lead single "Beautiful," which has already hit No. 15 on AAA radio charts and is being worked to Hot AC radio next. Combined with a strong response for perhaps the band's most focused disc since Beautiful World in 1997, the outlook is bright for Big Head Todd and the Monsters.
The outlook is even brighter for BHTM fans in Tulsa, as the band makes only its second appearance here in the past 10 years with a stop at Cain's Ballroom on Monday night, Sept. 13. Mohr said shows are running roughly two hours and covering roughly 25 songs per night, with a selection of new tracks and three or four from the band's breakout album, Sister Sweetly. The set list morphs from night to night as the band also does its best to work in any and all requests from its deep catalogue, with fans submitting their suggestions via the band's website, bigheadtodd.com.
Whether burning up the blues and throwing down his best John Lee Hooker growl on "Smokestack Lightnin'," sliding through a vaguely Caribbean groove with "Beautiful" or tapping into the kind of groove and lyrical hook that the band has built its reputation on with "Muhammad Ali," Rocksteady is a return to form for one of the most under-rated bands floating between the jam and rock genres over the past 20 years. This week's return to Cain's will prove it's no fluke -- the band has never lost its step live and is ready to return to the prominence and stature it enjoyed in the mid and late '90s.
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