Regarding Fox reviews: I’m writing a piece for HTN about the Fox run, and my sense of duty leads me to feel obligated to retain some exclusive content for them. HTN’s editorial style generally eschews the heavy first person; the piece is supposed to be about the music, not you and the music. And that’s generally how I approach it anyway. So what I’m going to do here is, I’m going to do a different kind of review, break style a little and go gonzo first person, and maybe a little long; don’t worry, my piece for the magazine will have less me in it.
So anyway, Friday I wore gray pants. A little tight in the crotch…
Trouble No More
Worried Down With the Blues
You Don’t Love Me
Aint Wastin’ Time No More
Rocking Horse >
Come and Go Blues
Can’t Lose What You Never Had
Why Does Love Got to be So Sad? >
Black Hearted Woman >
Black Hearted Woman
Dreams (Jack Pearson; no Derek) >
Mountain Jam (Pearson; Derek returns)
E: Southbound (Pearson)
I get to the Georgian Terrace, the official base of operations for the run of shows at the Fox right across the street, by three. You can’t get on an elevator without spotting someone you know, or someone in an Allman Brothers shirt (who you’ll know soon). As show time approaches and I cross the street to the beautiful Fox Theater—old, glorious, slightly larger than the Beacon—I this New Yorker is reminded of something by the grace and courtesy of the ticket takers: “Note to self: You’re in the south now. Slow down, relax, and be nice to people.” It takes a day, but I finally do get the hang of it.
Shortly after eight the band takes the stage in front of a loose, appreciative home crowd. Butch’s tom tom work heralds the appearance of “Mountain Jam,” always a sweet opener. Oteil drops bass bombs to punctuate Derek’s flitting about. Derek splays notes over the drum beats, then holds one. Oteil and Warren fall in with him and the drummers, everyone in the place knows “Mountain Jam” is coming— you hear it in the drums– but that is distinctly not what they’re playing; Derek is doing the jazzy snoopy dance, occasionally teasing at the melody, then just as quickly darting away. Finally, the two guitarists lock in together and state the theme. Derek follows with a galloping solo; then Gregg seasons the gumbo with some zesty B3 soloing, Oteil anchoring the bottom. Derek joins Gregg, playing chords to give him a counter-melody, a structure for Gregg to play against.
Warren’s solo is closer to the song than Derek’s, building to a double time full band crescendo. Then Derek tosses off the “Birdland” lick, the band is on it, and Warren solos “Birdland” over the “Mountain Jam” underpinning. Finally the guitarists bring the Jam to a close, and quickly the band is off and running on “Trouble No More.” Warren takes the first solo, Derek the second; after the expansive opening of “Mountain Jam,” both solos seem almost overstuffed into this short song. A crowd-pleasing “Midnight Rider” is up next.
Warren’s solo is piercing on “Wasted Words,” Oteil pushing him on as the band locks onto a one chord groove. Derek plays a lilting solo, giving way to harmony lines with Warren, which turns over into a powerful full band funk jam, bringing the song to a resounding close.
Warren peels off the stinging opening riff to the incandescent “Worried Down With the Blues.” He sings the verse, then a fat glassy slide note announces Derek’s entrance. Derek then worries twelve shades of blue from his poor guitar. Warren solos, then back into the gritty vocals.
Right out of “Worried Down” the band is vamping on the one chord that will eventually resolve itself into “You Don’t Love Me.” It is a jaunty riff, Oteil playing a funk-inflected solo against the rhythm guitar chords of the lick. Warren grabs a solo, Derek joins him, they trade short lines. Someone in the mix wants to turn over to the song proper, but the guitarists are not ready. Finally, after building the tension even while shaking your ass with that one-chord funkage, the band gives you the release you crave as the band hits the change that begins the tune, and Gregg rips into the vocals. Warren is all over his solo, loud, clean, and in the pocket.
Gregg growls the verses to “Aint Wastin’ Time No More,” while Derek on guitar treats it like a conversation, answering back each line with some kind of modification or affirmation. Each lick is “tell it brother Gregg!” Derek then hits the note on his solo, ringing pure clarity; then Warren cuts like a knife on his solo, taking an almost “Derek-inflected” approach.
Warren greets the crowd, then the band launches into the mighty “Rocking Horse.” Warren builds throughout his solo; it is as if the entire solo is pure climax. It was good for me. At the hand-off, naturally, Derek follows this climaxing by tossing a chord or two out into the ether, suspending time and space, as he comes to the song in his own time. He chisels away, coming at it indirectly, until suddenly the whole band is locked in behind him—feeding off him, as if someone threw a switch—and now he is pulling energy back from them, fueled by it. Derek leads the band hard into the verse; it is a collective exclamation point.
Out of the Horse, “Hot Lanta” is a fitting set closer. There is a nice extended Derek/Oteil moment at the end.
It is a fine, well-paced set. Still, there is a sense that while execution was A+, perhaps degree of difficulty was moderate. It is after all the band’s first show together in a brief while.
Gregg opens the second set with a welcome “Melissa;” Warren continues to make the solo on this song his own, in the process making an old friend of a song sound fresh and new (and just as sweet.)
“Come and Go Blues” is another Gregg/Derek dialogue, Derek standing by Gregg, reacting to his vocal lines with six string salvos, short enough so that he never steps on the vocals, yet he always manages to say something meaningful back. “Can’t Lose What You Never Had” is up next, now a solid riff song. Oteil, of course, is all over it. Warren’s sweet blues solo is the essence of simplicity, and profoundly satisfying.
Next the band asks the rhetorical musical question, “Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” Oteil and Warren trade solo riffs on the break that will be a transition to “Franklin’s Tower.” There is a definite nod to “Blue Sky” in their jamming; then Derek plays a halting slide solo which for a moment directly quotes the “Blue Sky” solo. Warren locks onto those “Franklin’s Tower/Blue Sky” chords, the place where the sad questioner about love begins to find redemption. Derek is soaring over Warren’s chording, it is impossible not to think of a bird. Sunshine is pouring into the Fox Theater; you look up at the starry sky painted on the ceiling, trying to find the Derek bird. Oteil sings the verse to “Franklin’s Tower”—always a pay-off—and then Warren takes the solo, one he’s played with, at minimum, three bands now. Warren makes yet another tip of the hat to “Blue Sky,” exactly playing the pre-transition licks from that song before Oteil comes back for the final verses.
“Franklin’s Tower” gives way to an aggressive “Black Hearted Woman.” The brief drum break becomes an extended one; the rest of the players walk off stage, and “Black Hearted Woman” is tonight’s drum solo vehicle. (”Wudn’t that cool?” smiled Warren when I mentioned it the next day.) It is a forceful solo. At one point Butch gets up, walks deliberately around to the tom toms, and he starts that call-and-response rhythm he does that sounds like “The Other One.” Butch, Jaimoe, and Marc are a runaway freight train. Oteil comes out to solo, but the drums do not give way; he solos over the rich percussive bed. The crowd gives the drummer an ovation that lasts well into Oteil’s solo.
As the band returns Oteil gracefully pushes the music back into the pile-driving finish of ‘Black Hearted Woman.” It is a hard, kick-ass close; the coda to the song is adrenalin-fueled icing on the cake.
Backstage before the show I had the privilege of briefly meeting one of the nicest, most humble guys you’ll ever want to know. I watched as members of the band and crew walked in, saw Jackie Pearson, stopped, did a double take, and then exchanged hugs with him. It was obvious that during his time in the band he made nothing but friends.
So what the hell? I figure I’ll ask him: you sitting in tonight? “Yeah, I guess maybe I’ll sit in on a few,” he said.
Warren brings Jack out onto the stage, Derek walks off, and the band is off into waltz time, which of course means “Dreams.” Without making comparisons, I am reminded that when Pearson was in the band, a lot of folks thought he positively owned this song. Naturally, Jack took the solo (when he was in the band, it was still a 2-solo tune.) Warren’s chording is graciously supportive. Pearson’s full-bodied, ringing tone is a pleasant blast from the past. His slide work is graceful, elegant, right there in your face, yet at the same time understated. I don’t know how that is possible, but I know it is what his fans love about him. His style is less ethereal than Derek, say, but still ethereal, and somehow “elastic.” It is a sublime reading.
Derek returns, the drummers let us know we’re eventually going back to “Mountain Jam,” but all three guitarists are layering impressionistic licks over the top. It is almost too much of a good thing, Jack, Derek and Warren together. Then triple harmony riffs back into the march section of “Mountain Jam;” soon Derek, standing in the middle, is the alpha dog, laying down complex jazz-inflected lines, Jack and Warren eyes-on, taking cues, until they fall into the pocket together with him. Oteil, off to the right, is just positively beaming.
Derek almost stubbornly stays away from the theme, but finally Warren guides the band in for a landing, with Butch’s tom toms meaning a return to home base. Derek solos, which becomes a trio playing the theme in unison.
Not a bad way to spend a Friday night.
Pearson joins the band on the encore, a rollicking rendition of ‘Southbound. Sometimes this song—as a vehicle for guests—can sound crowded; tonight, when that guest is Jack Pearson, there is no such problem.
So I scamper out of the Fox and across the street to the hotel—it will be a day before I have learned we don’t scamper here in the south—so I can grab a cab to the Cotton Club for the GABBAfest show (GABBA: fine organization) with Yonrico Scott headlining. Finally I get a cab and a couple of us head over. I’m hanging out in the parking lot and I see an SUV pull up with Derek, Susan, Derek’s manager, a female relative, and Derek/Susan’s older child. “I had a feeling,” I say to Derek. He laughs and shrugs. “Yeah man, what can I tell you?”
Inside Yonrico is holding down the fort, the band spinning jazzy, mostly instrumental stuff. There are many guests, many highlights. In a small club holding maybe 200 people, Derek takes his place with the band for a series of maybe three instrumentals. He is playing directly into a fender amp, and then directly through it—no effects, no PA. And his tone is as pure as the driven snow. This is the thrill of the small club. A man, an ax, a box, and tone!
Susan sang “I’m Gonna Move, with Derek returning on guitar. Floyd Miles sat in, Jeff Moser on banjo. And I got my first exposure to the lovely and tangy Donna Hopkins, a sassy chick with a set of pipes and a Les Paul, about whom more tomorrow. Because this night doesn’t end until three.