Cruising through Arizona on the way to California, The Bridge kicked off the western portion of their tour with a debut performance in the desert. The show was boisterous and full of the mandatory rust that comes with any band that has traveled clear across the country to begin another run. Can The Bridge still kick ass on empty? Yes, yes, they can.

Beyond the de rigueur opening night jitters, Baltimore’s Best found a way to show off nearly every side of their multi-influence dimensions by concentrating on what they do better than most—hitting the right notes, playing hard, and jamming whenever necessary.

To be sure, Cris Jacobs is still very much the front man/guitarist/singer/leader of this herd of well-disciplined players, but the entire band continues to excel as a taut unit. Ken Liner, in particular, is an extremely gifted musician who often segues into boom-box beats that are off-the-cuff and quite astounding. Yes, he may have been doing this for quite some time, but it never gets old or trite. The man pushes the envelope on some of their more traditionally-based tunes, and it is always a wonder to see and hear his work.

Patrick Rainey also got some face time on sax. Hell, they let him out of the gates early. The opening act, Endoplasmic, a free-form improvisational unit which makes up all of their music in the moment, and features former Relix On the Verge Mojo Farmers’ member Kevin Gordon on drums and percussion, had Rainey sit on a final jam. Hilariously, the piece ran 20 minutes and contained numerous stretches of solos both by Rainey, and Steve Allen on guitar, and an overall groove that just didn’t want to quit.

Alas, this final jam ate into the preparatory time for The Bridge, who just setup their equipment, sans soundcheck, and dove right into the first hot number “Good Rhythm,” which contained a fine guitar jam from Jacobs. “Let Me Off This Train” had a nice blues jam, and is a fine rendition of a song from their most recent album, Blind Man’s Hill. It was followed by a fiery tandem of “Spill Over>Bad Locomotive,” before Liner stepped out front, sans mandolin, for his trippy scatting which provoked the long-delayed soundcheck and some humorous band banter as they waited for the proper monitor mix.

The set picked up and entered even more modern Bridge terrain with a beautiful sequence that dipped from bluegrass into The Band territory to R&B mixed in with some classic rock motifs on a trio of gems from “Colorado Motel” to “Poison Wine” to “Chavez.” (Liner r.e. “Chavez”: “Here’s a song I wrote about the desert while sitting at home in Baltimore—definitely in the A/C.”)

Later, “Super Funk Regulator” lived up to its title with a bad ass…well, funky multi-textured tight and elastic jam that had several Bridge hallmarks—it rocked, made you dance, pulse escalate, and nailed a cool groove. Y’know—your garden variety jam basics. Have I mentioned how tight the band always sounds? In Arizona, too, rust or long travel blues and all, this band sounds bloody well-rehearsed, and that’s a compliment.

Speaking of…“Slow Flame,” also from the new album, was an intense bluesy rocker with a wonderful breakdown jam betwixt a martial drum beat and a bit of really cool improv. Definitely an evening highlight. “In Dreams” cooled things down a bit, refreshingly, with a great shuffle bluegrass beat before The Bridge eased into a superb cover of The Band’s “The Shape I’m In,” and closed with a great jam on “Heavy Water,” which featured a long, patient, focused and exploratory sequence. Another highlight.

In a word, as mentioned deuce-elsewhere, The Bridge are tight even when they’ve been nearly broken by a colossal drive across an unforgiving highway. In Arizona, they brought the goods, and played well, even at 80% capacity of their collective strength. In the desert, as they say, they take no prisoners, and leave the non-believers for dead. Well, The Bridge is welcome back here anytime—dead non-believers, notwithstanding.