Job and family have made it increasingly difficult to keep up with the writing of the Beacon reviews, especially when I see 8 shows a run (and for me, that’s down this year.) So invariably I fall behind, and am still catching up after the run is over. I’ve still got 3 or 4 to do, but I’m skipping right to this, my last show of the run, the penultimate show, Friday night, because it was my favorite, and it was one of those shows that reminds you why you keep coming. It’s funny, looking at the setlist on paper, it doesn’t seem so spectacular. But I assure you, being there, it was magical.
Trouble No More
Who to Believe
Sailin’ Across the Devil’s Sea
Lovelight (w/Bruce Hampton, Duane Trucks)
Leave My Blues at Home
Come and Go Blues
Worried Down With the Blues
Anyday (w/Susan Tedeschi, vox)
In Memory of Elizabeth Reed (w?Oz Noy, guitar)
Into the Mystic
One thing that makes for a great show is the pacing– the nights when there are no lulls, where every song seems like the only possible thing that could follow the one before. This was one of those nights.
Derek plays some nice round slide that fills my chest during “Trouble No More.” A spirited “Midnight Rider,” then “Who to Believe,” a song I see they’ve played five times in the last four years. Warren plays some pristine but scalding, bent-string slide guitar lead, then Derek peels off sheets of slide like it’s a long roll of golden foil. The song is surprisingly good, prompting my friend Bill to ask,”What song was that?”
Oteil lays down some bottom, with a “Memphis Soul Stew” kind of vibe; drums enter, then the rest of the band, and Warren throws the lever to slam into “Rocking Horse.” The Warren solo section after the vocals is cooler, more exploratory than usual; then the segue to what I think of as “Derek’s Tune,” the major key departure into which his solo section has evolved. Derek’s gentle licks peek out from behind the clouds, then Oteil gallops in, and Derek hops on that pony and rides. Derek and Warren are drawn together on stage by some unseen musical magnetism until they become a beast with four hands and a single mind, Warren hitting the three chords that define this little tune of Derek’s, while Derek layers on some frenetic slide that evokes “Oh, the water” in “And It Stoned Me”… back into the verse… then they stretch out the close, wringing every ounce of agony out, like an elbow in your spine during a great massage…
Gregg counts in a jaunty “Statesboro.” Then “Sailin’ Across the Devil’s Sea” features a powerful skronky drive to the close, guitars, forceful drumming. Next up it’s time for the First Set Instrumental, which tonight is “Egypt.” Marc Quinones is at the center of the music, Derek plays some slide, then some exposition that fills the house, then he’s wailing over the top until Warren brings the band back down and back to the dark dessert vibe that heralds the piece’s closing section.
Colonel Bruce Hampton joins the band on vocals, while Derek’s brother Duane joins on Uncle Butch’s kit for “Lovelight.” I’ve seen them play this a number of times with sit-ins, and it is absolutely never a mistake. Oteil scoops out some soulful bottom. The Colonel sings the first verse, Gregg the second. Warren gives up some of that Stax-Volt chording to propel the song while Oteil does, and I’m not speaking metaphorically, a Snoopy happy dance. Then Oteil plays the dance, Derek plays slide over the top, lets it shine, Duane Trucks steps out on drums briefly, then it all spills over to the Colonel’s back-end vocals.
They could easily have ended here, but instead there’s the knockout punch of “Leave My Blues at Home.” Warren and Derek unleash intertwined crimson ribbons of fire that wrap round the rafters, before flipping seamlessly into the song’s twin licks and a hard close to song and set.
“You know what would be too much to ask for?” I think to myself as the lights go down for the second set. But before I can answer, the band rolls into “Dreams” and the question is moot. Derek plays some squeezy elastic steel notes. I drift away with the storyline, until some guy down the row from me to my right yells out “Awesome!” as they return to the final vocal section. He’s right.
“Come and Go Blues,” then Warren leads the band into a dark, stinging “Worried Down With the Blues” (welcome back, song!) It’s just killer, and they grind all the juice and pulp out of it. Even if you don’t know the song, you know it smoked. Then Susan Tedeschi shimmies out for vocal support on “Anyday,” and this is where they push it into “one of THOSE nights.” It is, like everything so far, the perfect song for right this minute, insanely joyous. Susan and Oteil divvy up the vocals, Warren solos, then out of the final run at the vocals, Derek seems to get an idea and goes to the “Blue Sky” riff (the music is just that happy.) Warren nods and joins him, Oteil is already playing that song on the bottom, and off they go at it. The two guitarists wrap around the familiar “Blue Sky” transition riff, just enough, then Derek percolates some cool breezy blue. If you’re not smiling now, you’re just not trying. Derek tears it up on a “Blue Sky” solo, sunshine and chills descend, then back to an “Anyday” close…
……and the mist descends, because they just about never go into “Elizabeth Reed” from a standing start (“we don’t stop here!” is what Johnny Flash imagined Butch telling Clapton on 3/20/09.) Guitarist Oz Noy joins the band onstage (“Oz Noy idea who this is,” I think; but he’s a stud, performs around town with players like Will Lee, Anton Fig, and the Les Paul Trio.) Warren’s overture notes feel muddy but sound super-clean and clear. Noy goes wild on the strat, as the two other guitarists line up tight together, chording in unison.. Warren grabs the reigns and drives the music into the bass/drums break, which begins as the rest of the players take their time moseying off…
…time ebbs and flows, then the band returns, layering on some spidery droplets (my friend Bill is reminded of electric Miles Davis). Then they collectively turn it up to 11, then soar back into a 3-guitar hot lick swap meet, and a wailing Warren Haynes pummels the set to a close.
The first chords of the “Into the Mystic” encore are just perfect. Some nights it’s just a nice song; other nights it’a an invocation. Derek takes us deep, deep into the mystic; then Warren shows us around. Derek and Warren play life, light, love, longing, sorrow, redemption, joy, the whole arc of the blues… Warren brings it back home, the band grinds almost to a halt, he sings “As the fog horn whistle blows” over almost no accompaniment, then back into the whole song, the best take I’ve heard them do, Derek squealing over the top.
Damn near a perfect night. Tomorrow is supposedly the big one, the 200th beacon show, and the end of the run. I shudder to think what they might have planned if this was the run-up.