By Dave Resto
For almost twenty years, the prolific Native-American blues-rock band, Indigenous, featuring Mato Nanji, has been tirelessly producing albums and playing live shows. On November 2, 2017, the revered and much beloved Nanji and his band brought their music to the small but storied Moondog’s Pub, a long-time bastion of the blues in Blawnox, PA, just north of Pittsburgh. Indigenous has been on the road to promote their forthcoming album, Gray Skies (Blues Bureau International/Shrapnel Label Group), which will be released on November 11th.
Stepping onto the stage in front of a filled-to-capacity house, Mato Nanji greeted the crowd and counted the band in, opting to use his sunburst- finished Fender Jaguar, instead of his primary, ’62 re-issue Stratocaster. There was absolutely no variance, however, in his signature, monster tone. That rich resonance, with just the right amount of bite, has been the hallmark of Indigenous since the beginning and was front and center in the room that night. Nanji’s identifiable, expressive, full-throated voice was also a treat to hear in person.
The band was just a few selections into the first set when they played, “Now That You’re Gone,” the song that put Indigenous on the musical map back in 1998. Every note of the classic track was reproduced expertly onstage, while imbuing the performance with genuine dynamism. Following what is probably their best-known song, Nanji introduced a new tune from Gray Skies, the slowly syncopated yet surging, “I’m Missing You.”
“The Rest of My Days,” another favorite among Indigenous fans, was also a rhythmic juggernaut. Hinting at elements of Santana and the Isley Brothers, this soulful and elongated composition allowed for ample trade-offs between Nanji and guitarist, Levi Platero, himself a notable talent who was entrusted with easily half the load of six-string duties.
Platero has officially been with Indigenous since 2014, as have his cousins, bassist and vocalist Bronson Begay, and drummer Douglas Platero. The three toured as an opening act for Indigenous in 2012, before they accepted Mato Nanji’s invitation to become his bandmates.
Filling in on drums during the Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Buffalo, Niagara Falls leg of this tour was Kurt Olsen, a successful Nashville-based drummer and a long-time Indigenous friend and collaborator.
As the halfway point in the show approached, Nanji opened the floor to some spectacular soloing by everyone in the band. After, he announced a short break so that he could meet with fans to chat, takes pictures, sign autographs and offer up merchandise to anyone who was interested. I took the opportunity to meet with Nanji and his gracious wife Leah, who is co-writer of the band’s songs. I confess to being very taken by his warmth, his sincerity and kindness.
Returning for the second set, Indigenous opened with a blistering “Free Yourself, Free Your Mind,” which was originally recorded as a duet with Jonny Lang. The fiery Levi Platero on guitar kept the power of the song intact, as did Platero and Bronson Begay who sang backup on the choruses.
The set continued with soulful waltzes and high-powered blues shuffles, all with an abundance of laughter and smiles between band mates. I attributed that to Nanji’s ability to foster a familial atmosphere within the band, where he seems more the big brother than the boss.
“Things We Do” revisited the band’s first album and I was glad to be reminded of that song and of how much I love the subtle, sophisticated groove. For all the power that Mato Nanji can summon in both his singing and his guitar playing, he can also treat both with a certain gentleness.
Nanji has been a part of the famous Experience Hendrix Tour since it began in 2002 and he drew from that to close the show with a version of “Voodoo Child,” which extended into “Third Stone from the Sun,” “Black Magic Woman” and the Spencer Davis Group’s, “I’m a Man.” Olsen was given full latitude to capitalize on the furious Latin-rock and jazz-fusion beats, as Begay maintained a floor-rumbling bassline, and the guitarists took turns wearing out their strings. After almost three hours, I couldn’t imagine a more satisfying ending to a more enjoyable performance by any band working today.
Indigenous is currently on tour. To see tour dates, please visit http://www.indigenousrocks.com/tour/