Red Devils go to school for noon concert

The Red Devils were a band built for smoky bars, but even they might have had some trouble conjuring that mojo for the noontime lunch crowd at a college campus.

The review from the Daily Titan [PDF] recaps the band’s Dec. 2, 1992, performance at California State University in Fullerton. Interesting details on guitarist Mike Flanigin, described here as replacing Dave Lee Bartel in the “traveling line-up” of the band.

Red Devils perform Chicago-style blues
By Matt Cliff, Daily Titan Staff Writer
Dec. 3, 1992

The Red Devils’ laid back, gimmick-free stage demeanor let their music do the work Wednesday at Becker Amphitheater in the last noontime show of the semester.

The band’s gritty Chicago-style blues, flavored by singer/harp player Lester Butler’s wailing harmonica, revealed why they have attracted so many fans, celebrities and music industry types to their regular shows at the King King club in Los Angeles.

Drawing from a seemingly bottomless well of blues covers by artists like Willie Dixon, Little Walter, Howlin’ Wolf and others, the Red Devils have a raspy, roots-rock element to their sound that pumps up its intensity.

The band is on tour to promote its debut Def American album “King King,” named for the club where they’ve played since their formation in 1988.

The album was recorded live at the King King and produced by Def American owner/producer Rick Rubin over three nights in 1991. It captures their aggressive guitar-powered blues style in the setting best suited to hearing it — the dark, smoky guts of a club.

The Red Devils carried on with good spirits Wednesday, with Butler offering frequent thanks to the small but receptive audience between songs.

Butler, who’s played harmonica since he as 6 years old, was joined by guitarists Paul Size and Mike Flanigin (who is replacing regular guitarist Dave Lee Bartel in the traveling line-up), Jonny Ray Bartel and ex-Blaster Bill Bateman on drums.

The Devils blasted through a 12-song set powered, like the album, by covers of Chicago blues classics interspersed with originals like “Goin’ to the Church” and “Devil Woman,” both of which appears on the album.

The set’s 12-bar blues riffing and standard blues subject matter (agony, rip-offs, “my baby left me for my best friend”-type stuff) could have become repetitive to non-blues junkies in the audience had it not been punctuated by extended solo jams by Size and Flanigin and by the easygoing enthusiasm the band brought to its playing.

Size, Flanigin and Bartel had a down-to-earth, cigarette-dangling-from-the-corner-of-the-mouth stage presence, while Butler sang in a smoky rasp that uncannily duplicated the inflection and emotion of Chicago blues greats like Muddy Waters.

[Updated May 17, 2015, to reflect correct spelling of Mike Flanigin’s name.]

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