Next time C-SPAN runs the 1980 or '84 Republican conventions, stick around long enough for close-ups of the crowd. At some point there'll be some fresh-scrubbed college kid spastically waving a hand-painted sign bashing the Kremlin and screaming at the top of his lungs, "WE LOVE RON!" Now, it's a sure thing he never voted for a ticket with Walter
Mondale on it. And it's also a good bet he and his frat brothers had some Blues Brothers on heavy rotation from new student week right on through cap-and-gown fittings.
Even though "Briefcase Full of Blues" beat the Reagan Revolution by a full two years, it was the perfect soundtrack for Ronnie's young army -- it had built-in cool, more than a touch of bravado and, as Little Richard would say about those who bought Pat Boone's covers of his debauchery, you didn't have to bring home "no record by no greasy nigger."
Bitter irony then that Brother Jake just said "yes" once too often while Mother Nancy was telling everyone to "just say no." After all, the Brothers' schtick was good for at least two more movies and who knows how many more bestselling albums. But finally the old minstrel show is back -- in time for the Clinton era, where the man himself brings home the Reagan Democrats and is known to strike the smirk-and-shades pose at his favorite House of Blues.
House of Blues chain founder Isaac Tigrett aims to "bring the blues to every ... major city around the world." So imagine the joy of Chicagoans when those strange and exotic sounds arrived with their own franchise last November along with the opening-night recording of the first Blues Brothers album since 1982.
Paul Shaffer leads the band with his user-friendly Canadian funk, always sounding like a commercial is just seconds away. But Stax house band leaders Steve Cropper and Duck Dunn have little to say, perhaps still mourning Otis Redding and what might have been. There's a cameo by Joe Walsh, but it's hard to find. And Matt Murphy comes through only when permitted.
As to the Brothers themselves -- Dan Aykroyd and his new partner, the spare Belushi -- the singing still isn't. But that's conceded in a show stocked with ringers like Lonnie Brooks and Billy Boy Arnold and a set list ("Sweet Home Chicago," "Money") that begs the crowd to join the hunt for the right key.
Besides, Aykroyd seems more fixated on his Hyundai-dealer-on-Zoloft introductions, where the sincerity flows like a can of flat Tab and everyone is "the most dynamic" blah, blah, blah. He even revisits the glory days when he introduces Russian blues aspirant Sergei Varonov as coming from "a place that I used to hate because there were a lot of Commies there." Funny stuff.
When the boys want approval, they play for sympathy with ad-libbed lines about their departed brother, but they can't decide whether he's Jake or John. Save the continuity for the movies -- the sequel to the 1980 film is due out this year.
As the sticker on the disc says, "They're back!" -- and it's really a can't-lose venture. The aging Reagan youth needs something to listen to between Starbucks, the office and the local House of Blues. And a post-Cold War fresh-scrubbed youngster can learn to adopt and adapt to those strange and exotic sounds -- even if he was never really a Dole Man.