October 11, 2014 - There are things about the Thornton Winery in Temecula, CA that would drive a sane man crazy. The lengthy lines at slow to open entrances; the stampede to secure unreserved seating; the genial owners relentlessly pushing wine sales. Yet this stunning outdoor venue has an x factor that is undeniable and over what is now 26 seasons, its ability to attract top notch talent coupled with a very special ambience has ensured the fans keep coming back.
Of course when Brian Culbertson is topping the bill the magic is that bit easier to create and as he blew into town on the latest leg of his 20th Anniversary Tour the scene was set for an evening to remember.
Over the years, a facet of Culbertson’s live performances has been the quality of the musicians he has selected to support him but even by his own high standards the current line-up brings with it some serious clout. Regulars Chris Miskel on drums and Eddie Miller on keys and Hammond organ are now in the good company of firebrand guitarist Adam Hawley, bass-man Rodney Jones Jr., saxophonist and vocalist Marqueal Jordan plus that excellent trumpeter Michael Stever who from time to time also doubles up on keys.
The result is a musical togetherness that is breathtaking and tightly choreographed showmanship which, at the Thornton Winery, served as the perfect backdrop to be a stunning journey through the best of Culbertson’s 20 year discography.
It has been well chronicled how his 1994 debut ‘Long Night Out’ was recorded in his then Chicago apartment and that this year he re-imagined the album with an A-List set of musicians under the name of ‘Another Long Night Out’. With ‘Fullerton Av’ and then ‘Horizon’ he gave the crowd a taster of what this fabulous collection is all about yet truth to tell, right from the opening bars of the ultra catchy ‘Back In The Day’, the dazzling ‘Always Remember’ and the high octane ‘Hollywood Swinging’ it was clear that Culbertson was up, running and ready to party.
With Marqueal Jordan around Culbertson has some interesting vocal options and he exploited them to the full, first with a tremendous version of ‘Skies Wide Open’ from the 2012 CD ‘XII’ and then ‘Another Love’ from the same album. It proved to be one of the highlights of the entire show with another being Eddie Miller’s vocal contribution to the Quincy Jones classic ‘Secret Garden’ that can be found on Culbertson’s 1999 project ‘Somethin Bout Love’.
Maybe best of all was an ultra cool reworking of ‘Come To Me’ from the 1995 ‘Modern Life’ and, as the show fizzed joyously along, ‘Lets Get Started’ from the wonderful ‘It’s On Tonight’ and the delicious ‘Say What’ from ‘Come On Up’ proved to be crowd pleasers of the highest order.
As the show ramped up to a frenetic conclusion, larger than life renditions of ‘Funkin Like My Father’ and the equally good ‘Serpentine Fire’ really got the job done and as Culbertson returned to the stage for a welcome curtain call he closed out the set (as he often does) with the tender ‘Our Love’.
The 20th Anniversary Tour continues on at selected venues until the end of the year so catch it if you can.