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Thorn takes crowd with him

The Blue Rooster, Sarasota, Fla, December 7, 2014

Reviewed by Andrew Greenhalgh

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The best of artists give it all, no matter whether they're playing for thousands or a crowd of 200. On this night, the Paul Thorn Band played their last gig of 2014 and showed what they're made of, laying it all on the line for the intimate club's audience, ending the year in fine form.

The vibe was relaxed all around, with the upscale southern-styled restaurant serving up steaming portions of chicken and waffles and other delectable delicacies to the multi-aged crowd, seniors milling with thirty-somethings and everything in between, as Thorn and his band mates hung at the restaurant's entrance, chatting easily with folks. That simple accessibility set the tone for the evening and, as dinner wound to a close, Thorn and company took to the stage to get wound up.

The stage set was small, not allowing for too much movement, but Thorn did what he's done for the better part of his career, making the most of what life hands him and infused the crowd with energy from the very get-go. Opening with "Everybody Looks Good (At the Starting Line)," Thorn quickly gathered the audience into his hands and didn't let go as his familiar Tupelo twang delivered his signature homespun wit alongside a set list that spanned his whole career.

Songs like "Everybody Needs Somebody" and "Too Blessed to Be Stressed," from the band's latest album of the same name, were instant audience favorites, the easy hooks getting everyone singing along while his "Sister Ruby's House of Prayer" and "Pimps and Preachers" brought out the smiles, Thorn's humorous slice of life lyrics winning over fans new and old alike.

And of course, Thorn also delivered some scintillating blues work, songs like "Every Little Bit Hurts" letting lead guitarist Bill Hinds show off his stuff while Thorn's hit song "Mission Temple Fireworks Stand" brought the gospel into the club and got the people off their feet.

One of the biggest highlights was in watching such a talented, fine-tuned band work together. With Thorn's name on the bus, so to speak, it's easy to forget those around, but his collective of musicians showed that they're among the best around. Hinds' guitar playing was unforgettable throughout, his work on slide guitar particularly strong while Michael "Dr. Love" Graham rocked the keyboards with abandon, his swelling organ fills giving the music life. The backbone of any band is the rhythm section, and bassist Ralph Friedrichsen and drummer Jeffrey Perkins held their own. And Thorn took notice, taking the opportunity mid-set, and in honor of the last show of 2014 for the band, to buy a round for them all.

That camaraderie and good will extended to the audience as well as Thorn connected with the intimate crowd. Even as the band closed and then returned for an encore to thunderous applause, the artist took note of his audience and switched up the set, performing the heartfelt "That's Life" at the request of two brothers whose mother had recently passed away. And as he sang, he wove his way through the crowd, shaking hands, sharing hugs and even dancing with a few folks, his sincerity worn on his face and in his actions. As things closed out with the riotous "Take My Love With You," the Paul Thorn Band had everyone on their feet and dancing, with smiles all around, the hallmark of a great night of music.