Live Review: Jeff "Skunk" Baxter

Troubadour  Hollywood, CA

Players: Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, guitar, vocals; CJ Vanston, keyboard, vocals (produced Def Leppard, Toto, Joe Cocker, composer, engineer, studio); Hank Horton, bass, vocals (Detroit, MI, studio, Detroit symphony); Mark Damian, drums, vocals 

Materials: Playing to a packed house at The Troubadour, Jeff "Skunk" Baxter showcased 11 of 12 tracks from his first solo release Speed of Heat. From his opener, the rock & roll ceilidh/drum corps salute, “Ladies From Hell” (a nod to Baxter’s Scottish heritage and the kilted warriors of WWII) to the downhome sticky blues of “I Can Do Without,” gritty, soulful stylings of “Bad Move” and fat, nasty funk of Billy & The Nightriders’ “Insecurity” (featuring fantastic vocals from drummer Mark Damian), the audience was entranced, hanging on to every note of the 90-minute set.

Musicianship: Each player presented absolute magic, between their unison on ethereal instrumentals and moody harmonies (“Giselle,” “My Place In The Sun,” “Juliet”), while adding grungy, pulsing drum and bass lines (“Speed of Heat”) under Baxter’s gorgeous guitar licks, and through vocal contributions from all on stage. Reimagined instrumentals on “My Old School” (Steely Dan) were tight and flawless, with backing vocals from Mark and Kipp Lennon (of the band Venice). Hank Horton lent delicious bass work and incredible vocals (especially on “My Place In The Sun,” “I Can Do Without” and “Bad Moves”), with Damian adding sensitive, otherworldly drum work (“Do It Again”). 

Performance: Demonstrating true versatility and humble appreciation for the musicians in his orbit, Baxter appeared to be in his element, openly chatting with the crowd and sharing stories of his career between songs, taking every opportunity to shine the spotlight on fellow musicians. ”Apache” (The Shadows) highlighted his furious finger work, in defiance of his staunch humility (casually referring to himself and his colleagues as "studio sausages").

Summary: Closing with Steely Dan and Doobie Brothers covers, the stylistically shaken up, hoedown version of “China Grove” proved once and for all that a great song is a great song, and delivered the ultimate testament to the caliber of players on stage. With lifelong fans and music aficionados, and a rotation of industry heavyweights trickling through the club all night, Baxter and his colleagues delivered a seamless blend of rhythm and sound showcasing the best of 50-plus years of beloved music, along with a prelude of what lies ahead.