Blacktop Mojo Ascends to Skyway Theatre

Texas' rock band Blacktop Mojo at Skyway Theatre in Minneapolis, Minnesota on Sunday, July 23, 2023. (Photo credit: Jess Beck)

BY JESS BECK | Go Venue Magazine

Blacktop Mojo is a difficult band to pin down.

And that’s not just because the lead vocalist could bench press you across the room if you tried to – but don’t threaten with a good time!

Fighting a last-minute venue change from what was to be at the Cabooze, the show took place at a joint called Studio B inside The Skyway Theatre on Sunday, July 23rd in downtown Minneapolis. The upstairs venue, whilst a tid bit stuffy in the Midwestern swelter of humidity and metal fanatics, was the perfect intimate setting to experience a thrill of talent spanning FIVE bands total.

The first band I missed entirely due to parking.

I have no idea what one-way hell I died and entered, but holy fuck Minnesota, get your parking situation together!

But you’re not here to read about me bitch about parking.

Well…technically us…parking, as Jade was also in attendance with me and helped to capture some of the imagery you’ll see after you read this (which she also had a huge hand in).

The things that stand out about Blacktop Mojo are many, and yes, we’ll cover some of those here, but the important things are important, and what sets BTM apart first of all is their stage chemistry. Here’s a group of five dudes that travel all over the country (I mean, who do they think they are, The Devil Wears Prada?!?) and when they step on stage – you can just tell that they love it.

The smiles are very difficult to hide when they take their rightful place amongst the throngs of fans. And it’s the subtle, albeit noticeable, little twinkle in the eye. I know, I know! It sounds cliché as fuck, but it’s also true, because we’ve all seen artists who aren’t excited to play a venue, let alone a last-minute venue change, and still arrive with the same energy that they had initially.

Also – can we talk about their sound? If the guitar work from Chuck Wepfer and Malcolm Booher were a food, it would be a “Better than Sex Cake.” Or a cherry pie? You know what, whatever sexy, romantic dessert you would want – that’s what it is. It’s the ultimate definition of “Classy in the streets, FREAK in the sheets.” And that’s all I have to say on that for a…um…moment…

Anyway, pair all of that with the raw grit in the vocals of Matt James (who also could’ve been a country star with two first names like that, but anyway), and you’ve got a perfect storm. James’ vocals stretch from both that rough, gravely growl to soaring melodic…um…melodious melodies. It’s not comparable, really, and you’ll just have to hear it for yourself. Like…if James’ voice was a drug, it would probably make you see not just one God, but ALL of the Gods. The jury is still out on whether his voice or bicep could deliver a better punch, but I’m thankful I was only there for the former (although several in the front row got some fist bumps because oh yeah…he’s also a true showman)! He knows when to get the audience involved and stay in control of the environment – his timing is great, his energy is nearly unmatched; he’s just an all-around amazing performer.

I can’t tell you the number of shows I’ve seen where the bassist just stands still like a planted tree on the stage. But if roots were legs, Curtis would be more of a roadrunner of sorts. Or like a cheetah but with like…giant wavy hair. What I’m trying to say is, there were no roots – just fluid movement for the entire performance. Like a majestic bass unicorn making an array of faces at the crowd (you know…because he fuckin’ loves what he does). The whole night he was just side to side like an Ariana Grande song, and it was worth every moment. And yes, as the joke goes, bassists are typically feral creatures that can only be bribed out on stage with raccoon meat. However, this entire narrative has met its match in my (shameless plug) internet friend Matthew Curtis.

Drummer Nathan Gillis plays so methodically that you’d think he was just…I don’t know…one of the original members or something. Every single note was on point from this dude. He’s like the Southern Rock version of Travis BarkerGillis just plays with such passion and precision that you can feel like every beat or cymbal crash has a tremendous amount of meaning, and that’s something that I think every great drummer has.

Needless to say, this is an act that we certainly hope to catch again any time they come through the Minneapolis area (hint hint, fellas, let’s make it happen soon)!

Big shoutout to the other acts that came and played. Due to space here (and other reasons) I hope to be able to write more about you in the near future. But YGNESSplitdrivenStrongly Disagree, and Leaving Hope were all incredible (at least we heard good things about YGNES – sorry we missed y’all!) acts in their own rights, but please keep playing! Our stages are some of the most valuable places we have left, and you guys are the next hope to keep ‘em alive!

As always, a big thank-you goes to the Skyway Theatre staff for making sure the evening went off without a hitch! Genuinely the most friendly security and staff I’ve had the pleasure of working with up North so far. Remember kids to eat your school, stay in drugs, and don’t do vegetables, and we’ll catch ya at the next show!

Blacktop Mojo

Leaving Hope

Strongly Disagree


All images © Jess Beck

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