I can’t even tell you how much I enjoy your show write-ups, for the ones I’ve been to, and the ones I haven’t. I’ve missed them for a few years, and I’m truly pleased to be able to savor the grace of your writing again! Cheers!
1992 Intro Jam >
Come and Go Blues
Don’t Keep Me Wondering
Get On With Your Life
Hoochie Coochie Man
Little Martha >
Sailing Across the Devil’s Sea
Seven Turns (Oteil vox)
Black Hearted Woman
Low Down Dirty Mean
Spots of Time > drums/bass (brief) > Spots >
The show begins before most of the crowd realizes it, with Warren’s slide making an offering over swelling bass and drums. Soon the music becomes an overture, an intro somewhat reminiscent of “Les Brers,” but actually labelled “1992 Intro Jam” on the printed setlist. The music builds, the tension mounts, Derek finally hangs a big fat note out, tosses a look at Gregg, who counts in “Statesboro”…
Maybe it’s because Play All Night is out, the live set from this same theater recorded in 1992… but as the night unfolds, it becomes clear that an overarching theme to the set is the early ’90s incarnation of this band, the Seven Turns/Shades of Two Worlds band. Indeed, by the end of the second set, it has become clear that the night is also a nod to the one Forrest Richard Betts, at least to his compositional contributions. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves…
So, “Statesboro.” Derek solos some slamming rhythm. Then they do an especially crunchy “Come and Go Blues,” Warren playing some nice lead on the break. Then “Don’t Keep Me Wondering” is a shimmery, undulating blast. Derek spews fiery metallic runs up the neck that you can actually taste. The house erupts in appreciation at song’a end; my buddy turns to me and asks, rhetorically, “Who the hell brings the house down on the third song?”
“Hot ‘Lanta” is frisky as well; Gregg rips it up– two nights in a row he’s got himself a seat at the solo table– Derek gallops, and so on his solo Warren starts sparse– but quickly smolders, leading into the drum attack, and a frenetic guitar dash to the finish. Then Oteil– all Clark Kent in his glasses– lays down the vamp that has become the first movement in the “Rocking Horse Suite.” Warren plays an extended, quack-quack jam over a chugging Derek-driven rhythm, until finally rolling into the formal beginning of “Rocking Horse.” Out of the front end run through the vocals, Warren gives a master class in monster molten face melting, before Derek reaches up and touches the Blue Sky on the major key instrumental section I’ve come to think of as “Derek’s Tune.”
Back into the “Horse,” and after the back end vocal section Derek stretches out some wavy tone, pulling it like taffy, and the band rides it into “Get On With Your Life.” The slow, sexy Gregg blues was a staple of the set throughout, that’s right, 1992– and they haven’t played it since. They squeeze every drop of juice out of this one. Derek dances, Gregg vamps it up, Warren stings like a bee, Gregg sings the hell out of it.
On “Rain” Warren walks between he raindrops, clear as a bell. Then they segue into the instrumental “Egypt.” Derek and Warren converge center stage for a hot, uptempo summit meeting, then Warren’s solo starts with a “Norwegian Wood” tease, then goes off from there, until Derek sprinkles some fairy dust signaling the band’s return to the theme. “Hoochie Coochie Man” closes the set; Oteil throbs and pulsates at the bottom.
The second set begins with the two guitarists easing into “Little Martha,” so casually that not everyone realizes the set has begun. Marc joins in with some spice, then suddenly it’s the whole band, kicking and driving… and then flipping right over into “Blue Sky,” an Eat a Peach one-two punch. Derek solos first, valiantly fighting the Dickey lines that define our collective memory of the song; finally he falls into the transition licks, Warren joins him in harmony… as good as the soloists are, tonight it is hearing them embrace these familiar riffs that provide the song’s highlight, a testimony, I think, to the perfection of the composition.
Gregg runs through “Sailing Across the Devil’s Sea,” and then the band offers up a surprise few could have seen coming– “Seven Turns.” It is, of course, the first time they have performed this one since May 7, 2000, which just happens to have been Dickey’s last show. It is brief and to the point, a song and not a jam, but damn if it isn’t gorgeous. Oteil does a stellar job singing the lead, the two guitarists embrace the melody lines with the perfect blend of tenderness and ass whup, and the ensemble vocals– with Oteil, Warren and Marc singing together, Gregg providing the answer lines (“Somebody’s Calling Your Name…”) are pure joy. Warren just kills it on the outro. Pure happy dance, and an unquestionable highlight.
“Black Hearted Woman” is a scorcher. Warren and Derek build a fire and make it dance. Warren has smoke rising off his strings on the pre-outro, before the song briefly morphs into an especially dark, evil “Other One” jam section. On “Low Down Dirty Mean” Gregg does more fine singing, as does Warren on the refrain. It’s done pretty much by the book until the end, when Derek plays some enchanted, rubbery slide, going off script; the band grinds to a halt behind him, and he hits the turnaround that puts the song to bed.
Next Derek begins playing the moody chords to “Spots of Time,” with Marc behind him. There is a brief stumble but they’re over it in a flash… Warren layers on some color, the band falls in and after an extended intro Warren sings the verse, plays nice round lines in his solo– if Friday was a “Derek show,” then this is a “Warren show.” At the tail end of “Spots” Oteil and Marc emerge, then Butch and Jaimoe join in, for a relatively short drum/bass solo… back for a final kiss on the cheek of “Spots,” then the band scampers into “Jessica.” After the mid-song crest Warren moseys over to Oteil, gets a push, then falls in center stage, hands Derek some funk, Derek pushing back with rhythm. Warren goes off for a walk in the park, Derek keeps pushing, Oteil locks in with the drummers, turning to face them. Then Oteil goes off for a little jog through that same park Warren was in. The guitarists pivot to face him, soak up the energy, then square off center stage. Warren gives Derek some “Mountain Jam;” First Derek resists, but then he embraces it. Finally they fall away from each other, and Warren is back into the familiar licks that run back to the theme and close.
They come back with “Southbound,” Butch sitting out; it is less hot potato, more two-guitar scorch.
I’ve written a bunch of show reviews over the past 14 years, and in that time I’ve aways tried to respect the politics and the zeitgeist and steer clear of mentioning Dickey Betts. But tonight that is impossible. With the band performing “Blue Sky,” “Severn Turns, “Jessica” and “Southbound” after intermission, the legacy of Betts was firmly, and from where I sit almost certainly deliberately, embraced and acknowledged. If you’ve read Alan Paul’s book, you’ve got a sense of what went on behind the scenes, off and on stage, during Dickey’s time with the band. But the quality of his compositions, and their importance to the repertoire of this band still, cannot be denied. It was nice tonight to see those contributions acknowledged musically. These are good songs, we love them, and this band kicks their ass.