Monday, Aug. 3, 2009 | 6:16 p.m.
Jason Ricci and his band blew into town, and blew me away – twice.
As I was driving cross-town to watch Ricci and New Blood play again – this time at Texas Station on Friday, I pondered the question:
What makes you go back to see a band the second night?
I’d heard raves about Ricci from a harmonica-playing buddy whose opinion I trust. (“He’s the Hendrix of the harp.”) So I went to see Ricci’s first show in Las Vegas – as a part of the free blues series at Boulder Station on Thursday night. And he was right. Ricci wasn’t just good, he was unique.
So when my harp-playing friend wrote to ask what I thought, here’s what I wrote back:
I had never seen Ricci before, although I had your raves and his album “Rocket No. 9” album. (Now I own his new album, “Done with the Devil” -- which I think is better.)
But there is just no way you can capture what he does on a record. He's such an out-of-the-box performer. He's part Jim Morrison, part Junior Wells, part Iggy Pop, part Toots Thielemans part Judy Garland, part Lee Oskar.
I've seen a lot of really good harp players -- including Thielemans and John Popper, Oskar and Magic Dick, Charlie Musselwhite and Howard Levy and all those great guys from the Bay Area.
But I have never seen anyone do what Ricci does. He has all that speed plus touch and sensitivity, amazing breath control, great tone. He has absolute control of all those foot pedals and both his harp mic and his vocal mic.
There were times when he was doing all those standard harmonica virtuoso riffs -- the stuff you see all the great players do once or twice in a night -- and then he'd just blow them up and take them in another direction. And he was doing great stuff on every song. Suddenly he'd be playing an improvised Bach fugue. Then on the next song, it sounded like a calliope was rolling through the club. Sometimes he sounded like an organ or a heavy metal guitar or a steel drum. Sometimes he sounded like a woman moaning or a locomotive.
He's so amazing that I sat there the second night about 20 feet from him and watched what he was doing. I kept shaking my head and wondering: How in the hell is he doing that? I was even more blown away.
If you hear that stuff on record, it's just a recording. It could be overdubbed. It could be a synthesizer. I mean the calliope sound could be a calliope. I had the same feeling watching Jason Ricci the first time I saw (eight-string guitarist) Charlie Hunter. You don't get it unless you see it. But Hunter is a just a player, Ricci is a performer.
There were times where you wonder if he's going to slit his wrists on stage. He looks like he's ready to burst apart at the seams. But he's in total control. He's posing and smoking and controlling the band with punches and little flicks of his hands. He turned to the drummer and imperceptibly rolled his wrists to get him to speed the whole thing up. At one point Ricci is doing a handstand parallel to the stage, at another point he’s playing the harmonica with a cat mask on, then he's down on his hands and knees retching looking like he's going to cough up a hair ball.
Plus he's got a great band with good ears. The rhythm section (Ed Michaels on drums and Todd Edmunds on bass) is rock solid and you'd pay to go see Shawn Starski play guitar with anyone.
I asked myself: What makes you go back to see a band the second night? It's the virtuoso playing, for sure. But I decided it was this:
Texas Station, modeled after the Lone Star State, is a AAA Three-Diamond rated hotel with 200 rooms, a casino, restaurants, bars and lounges, an entertainment showroom, a movie theater and a bowling center about six miles from the Las Vegas Strip.
It features 91,000 square feet of gaming space with more than 1,775 slots, 27 table games, a non-smoking poker room, a 500-seat bingo hall and a race and sports book.
The hotel has several dining options, from quick eateries to restaurants, including Austin's Steakhouse and Texas Star Oyster Bar. Some family-friendly features include an 18-screen movie theater and a bowling center.
South Padre provides live music weekly. The Dallas Events Center seats up to 2,000 people for concerts and other live performances.
Boulder Station, which has the look of a traditional western train station, is on Las Vegas' "Boulder Strip," or Boulder Highway, adjacent to Interstate 515/U.S. Highway 95. It offers 300 rooms that were all renovated in 2011, dining options, a 75,000-square-foot casino and a special area just for kids.
The casino provides offers more than 1,400 slots and video poker machines, 33 tables for roulette, blackjack, mini-baccarat, progressive pai gow, craps, and three card poker, a 300-seat sports book, a 452-seat bingo hall, and a poker room offering such games as Omaha, Limit/No Limit Hold’em, or 7-Card Stud.
Surrounding the casino floor is an array of dinning options, with choices ranging from quick eats at the food court to fine steaks at The Broiler to fresh dishes at the Feast Buffet, Cabo and Pasta Cucina.
Guests can head over to the 750-seat Railhead Lounge to listen to blues, jazz, country and rock, to Kixx, a bar featuring free lounge acts and karaoke, or bring the family to catch a flick at the Regal Cinemas.