If you had to explain the blues to someone unfamiliar with it, you might think about referring that person to a segment in Otis Rush & Friends - Live at Montreux 1986. When Rush belts out "If I Had Any Sense, I'd Go Back Home," his world-weary vocal delivery and gritty guitar work encapsulate most of the traits -- mournful, reflective, honest, resolute, tough -- that make the blues so enduring.
Otis Rush & Friends - Live at Montreux 1986 showcases one of the great architects of Chicago's West Side blues. In the mid-1950s, the Mississippi-born Rush burst on the scene when he wrapped his searing voice around the Willis Dixon-penned "I Can't Quit You Baby" and subsequently produced a bona fide classic blues tune. And he has been going strong ever since, having influenced such blues-rock luminaries as Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck, Santana and Stevie Ray Vaughan.
Clad in a white cowboy hate and matching leisure suit (!), Rush commands the stage at the 1986 Montreux Jazz Festival, the renowned festival that is held each year along the shores of Lake Geneva in Switzerland. He tears through 13 tracks:
"I Wonder Why (Will My Man Be Home Tonight)"
"Right Place, Wrong Time"
"Mean Old World"
"You Don't Love Me"
"All Your Love (I Miss Loving)"
"Every Day I Have the Blues"
"If I Had Any Sense, I'd Go Back Home"
While Rush's stage presence isn't exactly barn-burning, the songs are excellent, punctuated by Rush's fierce vocals and vibrato-heavy guitar licks, and he is ably served by a solid backup band. Blues fans will have a hoot.
Nevertheless, the "& Friends" part of the DVD title is a bit misleading, since there are only four songs in which Rush is joined by guest stars. An all-business Eric Clapton shows up to lend his virtuoso guitar talents to "Crosscut Saw," "Double Trouble," "All Your Love" (perhaps the best song in the set) and "Every Day I Have the Blues," a blast of barroom blues that also features an appearance by blues great Luther Allison.
The music takes center stage – which is just as well, considering the general listlessness of the presentation here. With ho-hum cutaways of backing musicians and a surprisingly tame audience, this is a connect-the-dots approach on how to shoot a concert.
The weakest aspect of the DVD, the show is shot on video and presented in full-frame. White balance appears to be off throughout, and most of the video is flat, soft and precariously lighted. Then again, the viewer can discern the more important stuff – namely, the beads of sweat rolling down Rush's face as he lets loose. The music's the thing, right?
Audio is available in three formats: 2.0 Stereo, 5.1 Dolby Digital or DTS. The 5.1 and DTS are exceptionally clear and sharp, as befits a blues legend.
Unfortunately, there are none. The disc would have benefited from a short documentary – or at least written text – on Otis Rush and/or the Montreux Jazz Festival.
Odds are that blues fans will enjoy the DVD, but this is hardly the sort of immortal show that is likely to win over the uninitiated. Otis Rush is certainly a legend of blues, and so any performance of his is well worth checking out, but Otis Rush & Friends - Live at Monteux 1986 isn't Otis Rush at his artistic heights.