Hamilton Loomis Dan Electro's December 14, 2012
It never quite feels like Christmas until the kids come home. That seemed to be the sentiment behind the Christmas show at Dan Electro's on Friday, which brought Galveston native Hamilton Loomis, the ex-wunderkind guitarist who was jamming with Bo Diddley at 16, back to the balmy, familiar climes of Southeast Texas to celebrate the holidays with the folks who know him best.
There was a familial atmosphere to the show, and not just because Loomis' parents were in the crowd. The cozy Heights club filled up nicely with local blues fans, many of whom have presumably watched the guitarist grow up onstage.
Now in his thirties, the guitarist, singer and multi-instrumentalist has grown into a sound of his very own, a slick blend of blues, funk, rock and pop with plenty of room for showpiece solos. Since it wouldn't be the holidays without a few folks in from out of town, Loomis rounded out a band of ringers with Austin's Fabian Hernandez on sax, Baton Rouge's Kent Beatty on drums and Birmingham, England's Jamie Little on drums.
The band sounded well-rehearsed and tight, with all three of Loomis' backers showing off impressive solos. Hernandez, in particular, stood out with a dynamic turn on the slow blues of the Loomis original "Warming Trend." Beatty, for his part, impressed with a bass version of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas."
Despite the talent surrounding him, however, Loomis was undeniably the center of attention all night. An experienced pro who's played all over North America and Europe, the guitarist complained of feeling hoarse after a recording session, but his voice sounded full and clear on funked-up originals like "What It Is" and "That Thang."
He gave his pipes a rest on a few songs to blow a mean harmonica, which appeared to be wedged into the upholstery attachment to a vacuum cleaner. This rather brilliant accessory allowed the guitarist to strum away as he blew, achieving something approximating the sound of his cupped hands over the mouth organ.
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The show's real highlights, naturally, came when Loomis stepped away from both the mike and the harmonica to explore his instrument's fretboard in depth. His solos were tinged with rock, featuring a few finger-tapping passages to go along with the wild blue-note bends that set the audience to hooting and clapping.
A few couples got up to dance near the stage, but most of the older crowd was content to groove in their seats, sipping longnecks and canoodling in the darkness.
Loomis wasn't shy about playing to the back row. In addition to making some pretty incredible guitar faces all night, the performer jumped off stage and on to a table to crank out blues-guitar versions of Christmas classics from "Frosty the Snowman" to "Feliz Navidad" in the middle of his song "Bow Wow," culminating with a particularly aggressive version of Chuck Berry's "Run, Rudolph, Run" that somehow detoured into "Smoke on the Water."
A long-haired guy at the bar seemed to particularly enjoy that, banging his head as if by reflex.
For Loomis, it was an easy, relaxed show in a familiar setting in front of friends and family. He won't have much time to take it easy over the holidays -- in addition to the sessions, he's back on the road for three more dates in the Midwest this year before heading to the West Coast in January.
But on Friday night, at least, he was right at home, playing Christmas carols, taking requests and settling into a nice, comfortable groove in front of the friendliest audience he's likely to find anywhere.
If the goofy grins that continually lit up his face are any indication, Loomis takes a lot of joy in his profession. And aren't comfort and joy what the holidays are all about?
Personal Bias: Dan Electro's is not one of my usual haunts. It was nice to switch it up a bit on a relatively quiet weekend for local music.
The Crowd: Graying boomers sippin' beer and tappin' their feet.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Why did I wear Barbie shoes?"
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Random Notebook Dump: The cozy confines of the club always make the enormity of Dan's back patio all the more stark.