Feeling no pain
Thursday, April 4, 2019
By GUY D’ASTOLFO
Fans of Tommy Castro have come to expect something new with every release.
It’s how the veteran blues-rock artist has stayed on top of the game through three decades and 15 albums.
In recent years, Castro has focused his sound by stripping down to a four-piece lineup – dubbed the Painkillers – that he calls the most “telepathic” band he has ever had.
Castro and the Painkillers will return to Youngstown on Saturday for a show at Rhine Haus Bier Hall as part of their U.S. tour to promote their new album, “Killin’ It Live.”
As the name implies, the album – released last month – captures the band’s tightness and improvisational energy.
“This is the best band we’ve ever had,” said Castro. “We really got something going on beyond just being good musicians. Every song we play live now has that right feel – all the dynamics. It allows us to jam out more on stage.”
The act consists of bassist Randy McDonald, drummer Bowen Brown and keyboardist Michael Emerson.
The new album provides a sampling of what to expect from the live show. It was recorded last year at venues in Texas, New York, Michigan and California.
“My approach was, let’s record a bunch of shows and take the best ones,” said Castro in a phone interview.
“I did a live album many years ago, ‘Live at the Fillmore,’ which was recorded at one show. We brought in all the microphones that you would use in a studio. It was a big deal, and man, the pressure to have that one show come up with a live album... it worked out well, but that was 20 years ago. With ‘Killin’ It Live,’ I wanted to give an up-to-date version of what we sound like now.”
The album easily captures the band in its natural habitat – a rollicking barroom. The track list spans Castro’s long career.
“My label wanted me to lean on tunes from the past, reasoning that the last two or three albums were not that long ago,” said Castro, adding the selections suit the current lineup of the band.
“I’ve come to a place in my live shows where I can put in the songs from the past that suit this current group of players,” said Castro. “Along with the best stuff from the last three or four albums, you’ll see a bit of the past. We’re going to take you on a trip. We’re not doing the same kind of blues all night. We go in different directions.”
The set list parallels the band’s musical evolution.
“The instrumentation has changed over the years” said Castro. “At times it was more soul than blues, or a rock edge. I let the songs take me where they want to go.”
As for the “telephathic” qualities of the current lineup – yes, it’s like they know what each other is thinking.
“If you have been playing together for a while, that happens,” said Castro. “It’s like when you see a bunch of birds flying together and they all turn left all of a sudden. Who made the call? I think humans have that ability too.”
Castro has been stopping in the Youngstown area since the ’90s, when he frequently played The Cellar – the long-gone club in Struthers.
He’s seen the cycle of the blues’ popularity rise and fall a few times in his lifetime and says another comeback is underway.
“The last big blues explosion was in the mid-’90s,” said Castro. “Those were good times. This is the third time now, and there is so much talent.”