SAN JUAN CAPISTRANO — The Fabulous Thunderbirds are too tuff to die. Written off time and time again, the veteran roots-rock group is on the rebound once more with new personnel and a new, highly acclaimed album, "Roll of the Dice."
The 'Birds began as a jumpin' bar band 20 years ago and reached improbable heights in 1986 with the hit single "Tuff Enuff," only to melt slowly back into the watering-hole circuit, where a number of mutations in their lineup and changes in popular taste over the years seemed to burn them to a sad, irrelevant ash.
Forget it. If Thursday night's marathon concert at the Coach House was any barometer, this band is back with a vengeance.
Now featuring James Harman Band alumni David "Kid" Ramos on guitar and Willie J. Campbell on bass and ex-Blaster Gene Taylor on keyboards, along with longtime mainstays Kim Wilson on harp and vocals and Fran Christina on drums, this is the meanest assemblage of T-Birds yet to rock a house.
Storming through signature tunes and new numbers and throwing in the occasional blues chestnut such as "Mannish Boy," the quintet kept the crowd on its feet for more than two hours.
Wilson, long an unpleasantly sweaty pudge-boy, flashed a new, close-cropped coif and Nautilus build and an energy level to suit his fresh, Bruce-Willis like image. Ramos and Campbell add a cool 'n' greazy element to the group in terms of attitude and sound (not to mention hairspray); Taylor has always been nearly without contemporary peer as a pianist, and Christina long has been one of rock 'n' roll's great, underrated talents.
The sold-out Coach House was throbbing with rare intensity as fans danced in the aisles, jumped on tables, guzzled booze and hooted and hollered with all the gusto of a Saturday night Texas roadhouse crowd.
True, some of the solos seemed interminable; the set's hellfire pace didn't vary much, and the arrangements sometimes were sloppy, but the essential, celebratory spirit of the music was not to be denied. Whether the 'Birds ever re-establish themselves commercially is irrelevant in the face of a performance this genuine, this sinewy, this joyous.
Da boyz are back, and armed to the teeth.
Opening the show were the unbearably loud and generic Alexander Band and the embarrassing Local Heroes, continuing an unfortunate Coach House tradition of insufferable support acts.