By Josh Downs, cbbfestival.com Senior Correspondent
Chicago, IL – September 15, 2008 – My foray into the blues stylings of Lil’ Ed began in the parking lot before the show. Standing in line to pay for parking, what can only be described as an oversized hobbit in a white sequined fez ambled up behind me, opened up a hatch full of pearly whites, and offered me a friendly head nod. I hesitated for a moment, trying to convince myself that I was not about to be knifed in a Calcutta Bazaar, and somewhat nervously returned the nod. I said to myself, “This is definitely something different”, words that would prove to be quite prophetic.
Though I wasn’t able to put two and two together in the parking lot, realization quickly came to me when I saw the funky hobbit tuning up with his band, the Blues Imperials. His bandmates, the house-sized Pookie Young on bass and the tall and lanky Mike Garrett on rhythm guitar, only emphasize Lil’ Ed’s diminutive stature. Once the music started, however, Ed quickly became the largest presence in the room.
Lil’ Ed boasts a screaming guitar that sets the tone for the band’s frenetic, house-shaking tunes. His gravelly voice, though a bit indecipherable at times, complements the howling tone of the rest of the music. The Blues Imperials form a taut, cohesive unit, with a standout effort from Young, a gigantic dude who looks the part of an earth-shaking bassist and follows through on his appearance.
The unbridled enthusiasm he displayed onstage was infectious. The mostly arrhythmic Caucasian crowd (including yours truly) clapped dutifully along with Ed, even long after he had broken into a nasty solo. Those of us in the packed house who weren’t able to find a seat swayed in place between trips to the bar. At one point, Lil’ Ed strolled into the crowd, a fairly standard move for all but the creakiest boned blues musicians at Legend’s, but with the duckwalking flair that Ed showed for it, you could tell that he would have jumped into the audience if he were playing at Ravinia with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
Lil’ Ed’s outstanding blues repertoire, coupled with his unmatched showmanship, make him a must see at November’s Chicago Bluegrass & Blues Festival. Just be prepared for something different than your typical blues show.