Some nights, you walk into the Beacon and you can just cut the mojo with a knife… if you’re paying attention you get that tingle, that buzz in your antennae, and you can tell its going to be a special one.
Saturday night. It is one of those shows where everything the band tries, works, first note to last.
“Statesboro Blues” is a groovelacious opener, Warren’s slide drips with possibilities, Gregg plays some nice roadhouse blues, Derek makes his guitar talk and swing. Sure, its only “Statesboro;” but it’s a nice happy start, and they’re just ON it.
“Revival” has now completely transitioned from an opener or encore to an extended instrumental work-out. After a driving, upbeat run through the song portion, the action begins. Derek surfs a little bit over the groove, all bright and happy; then he gets on his rocket and rides, then a beautiful pull-up. Oteil steps to the fore, then Derek plays some sparse, dry lines that give way to the Derek/Oteil happy dance. The band falls in, gives the groove back to them. Derek lays it on thick, playing with a big, earthy tone. Warren grabs the wheel, playing a cantering, happy solo that unrolls like spools of colored ribbon. Finally, a good eight minutes after they’ve left the song, back to the riff and the “Love is everywhere” rounds, giving way to an emphatic close. Stone cold highlight.
On “Leave My Blues at Home” Gregg sings over his own cascading organ lines, followed by driving, incendiary guitar work on the break, the two guitarists playing with one mind, trading off orange-hot licks, culminating in Derek and Warren locked onto a furious dual strum that leads back to the main riff of the song to the close. Whew!
Next up is a version of “Rocking Horse” that is almost scary. The opening vocal section lays the groundwork, Warren’s soulful singing accented by Derek’s lines, propelled by the rhythms section. On his solo, Warren builds a big fire, and we all pray to it. Derek’s solo now, without the transition. He begins, offering some “Les Brers” teases, then he tumbles backward through time as he throws out jazzy lines; then he plays all moody and restrained. Derek chords as Warren pushes back to the frenetic blues, suddenly the band is flying at breakneck pace, running hard into an exclamation point of the transitional riff, they hit it like a wall but do not go through it. Instead its back into the muddy river, Derek plays some free jazz over dry, soft simmering drums-and-Gregg vibe. Then he moves to an atonal solo that is like a mirror image of the melody the song suggests. Soon Derek is radiating a siren of light; then he lays out fat, down lines like dragonflies on a humid day. Derek is totally in the zone, painting bebop art across the sky. He pulls the band into another runaway train jam, Derek on the top, Oteil all over the bottom. Finally twin lines and the transitional riff, and the descent back into the song. Unbelievable. Warren sings the back end, and a thundering close. Incandescent; 17 minutes of awe.
And as if they even needed to close the deal, Warren immediately peels off the introduction to “Soulshine,” almost a coda to “Rocking Horse.” Ron Holloway joins the band over by Oteil on sax. After Gregg and Warren trade vocals, Holloway takes the first solo, a full brassy tone. Warren comes out of Holloway’s solo with a burst of sunshine, then back into the chorus. Warren plays the blues, Holloway echoes with a hearty, brassy “Amen!” Warren and Holloway trade leads on the outro, every note Warren hits is a ladle full of sunshine.
On “High Cost of Low Living” Warren punctuates strong Gregg vocals with nice bluesy bursts. The chords of the outro pull Derek’s guitar like taffy, and he constructs a beautiful, majestic, melodic solo with Butch all over his kit behind him; a long, exquisite trees-bending-in-the-breeze Derek run, with birdlike lines punctuating the gentle soar to a close. Then the band goes right into “One Way Out,” which along with the “Statesboro” opener nicely bookends the set, a simple blues symmetry. Derek flies on his solo, Gregg’s vocal delivery is emphatic. Not the most challenging song in the repertoire, but so satisfying when they hit it just right.
As good as the first set was—nicely constructed and paced, with “Revival” and “Rocking Horse” delivering knockout punches—even heightened expectations cannot adequately prepare you for what follows.
Luther Dickenson of NMAS joins the band on the right side of the stage for “Come On In My Kitchen,” which features a good, long three-guitar intro, sort of wading into the pool, before resolving into the tune. Luther plays a nice slide lead, then Derek offers up a straight read, drenched in caramel goodness. It is a perfect appetizer.
Gregg announces that the next song will be an old one, then the waltz time of “Dreams,” rolling off the stage as big as a house. Gregg remains in top vocal form. Holloway honks the first solo, then Warren enters tiny, playing sweet wavy cascading lines that whisk you away on a journey inside. He builds and builds, deliberate, until his solo is scraping its knuckles against the Beacon ceiling; you snap to attention. A shimmery return, the drummers are all over the break between verses. Big, dreamy, spot on.
Out of “Dreams” the band lays down some spacy ambiance, Jaimoe lightly accenting Derek’s tentative forays. Once they have the space they want, the drums count in “Elizabeth Reed.” Derek peels off waves of sheer tone that fill the room, then he plays voodoo over the Jabuma mambo. Finally the twin licks, Marc driving high over the top, and effortlessly into the theme. Derek is out of the gate on the first solo, he detunes to bend the song, then he’s off like a silver streak, building to as perfect crescendo. The transition riff, then Gregg does his thing, right into a Holloway solo; the band falls into a little jaunt behind him as he rains down some nice splashy brass. Then Warren comes on like the beacon on the front of a freight train, then like the whole train, the train is a-comin’, big, fast, right at you; then headlong into the climactic theme that usually gives way to the drum break… but instead, Oteil picks out a riff with some tasteful percussion ensemble work underneath, Derek spells out jazz chords against it. Derek and Oteil move into slow funk/jazz ringing… Oteil adds some scat singing, tossing in a “Sabre Dance” tease as Derek recedes and the section becomes Oteil’s solo spotlight… finally he takes off his bass and the drum section begins, Oteil joining in again on Butch’s kit, Butch in front of the stage on the bass drum. Soon Kofi Burbridge comes out and lays some flute over the drummers, evoking a tribal, Native American feel. Then Kofi exits, and the four-headed drum beast comes to life… Jaimoe and Oteil form a jazz dyad, connecting, making the rhythm spread out, breathe… Butch’s timpani pushes the beast forward…
Then Butch announces “Mountain Jam” on the timpani, totally unexpected and delightful. The simple fact that they do not go back and hit the last bit of “Elizabeth Reed” makes that song fresh and wondrous again, bringing back the mystery. Of course Derek picks up Butch’s signal and joins in, then Oteil; the two of them dance down the rabbit hole, running away from the “Jam” melody. Butch again makes an insistent plea on the timpani, Derek responds, he’s on the melody, then just as quickly, he’s not… it is as if Butch wants to play “Mountain Jam,” but Derek wants to play jazz with Oteil… finally the band aligns around the lick of the melody. The guitars are frenetic, the song morphs as Gregg solos on the B3… Oteil swings… Warren looks for the missing melody, finds it, begins a kind of minor key version of “Mountain Jam” (finally! Release!) and then he does the “Birdland” lick, but the band doesn’t bite…suddenly he’s hard on the chords to… no… is it?… “Dazed and Confused,” the old lumbering Zep blues. The place, predictably and rightly so, goes nuts. Warren plays the ancient juju wah-wah blues, sings the verse, the band rolls over the fat wobble of the primitive riff… it is perfect for them. Oteil is big and scary, Warren plays more electric blooz, Derek lays some taut lines out, ends on a hanging note as the blues progression resolves… and underneath Derek’s note Butch hits the timpani again, back into “Mountain Jam.” Butch and Derek do their rhythmic, darting “Jam” thing… then Warren steps up for a big bluesy emphatic close.
Dreams… Liz Reed… the solos… Mountain Jam… Dazed and Confused… MORE Mountain Jam… it is, really, almost too much to absorb.
And since it is Saturday night, I have written down “Whipping Post” on my note pad before Oteil rolls out the thunder carpet intro. Derek plays so clear, present, evolving into snaky, slidy lines. Warren begins his solo with small airy lines as the band cools, then bursts into a bright solo, then he brings the dark heat, and a big Post finish. It is just what you knew you wanted.
Now THAT’s what I’m talkin’ bout.
I took Monday off—looks like it was a good ‘un—so I’m all caught up. See you all tonight.