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Nighthawks 

With the Real Deal Blues Band. Friday, May 5, at Wilbert's.

Believe it or leave it, there were parallels between punk rock and the "blue-wave" bands -- a critical sobriquet laid on nonconformists in the new generation of blues bands such as the Fabulous Thunderbirds, the Kinsey Report, and Robert Cray. Like their oddly dressed illegitimate brethren, these upstarts stripped blues down to its essentials and weren't concerned with any sense of vainglorious "purity" -- blues didn't have to be mired in "my baby done lef' me" clichés or needlessly flashy solos, and could be mixed freely with R&B, reggae, rock, whatever.

Washington, D.C.'s Nighthawks are the Ramones of '70s blues, a foursome that approaches the dark Chicago blues of Muddy Waters and Little Walter with a lean ferocity. Led by the sharp-edged harmonica and resolute vocals of Mark Wenner, and featuring heartbeatlike drumming by Pete Ragusa -- both original members -- the Nighthawks maintain the ardent fire of a bar band determined to win over the toughest audiences. They're not stuck in the past, either; note their reinvention of Frank Zappa's prophetic "Trouble Comin' Every Day" on their Pain & Pleasure platter.

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