Last night’s show was lush and lux, but tonight’s was the shizzle. With Kofi Burbridge and Rob Barraco again sitting in on keys in Gregg’s place, and Warren and a series of guest stars covering the vocals, this was a long, generous, big in-yo’-face affair.
Tonight there are two extra mics set up on the front line, and as the band walks on, there’s a harp player over by Oteil, who of course turns out to be Jimmy Hall. The harp is prominent in the mix as the band makes the tuning up sounds that morph into the opening jam; Hall gently ushers in the show with a greasy harp vamp, delicious, that becomes a Warren/harp conversation, just riding the shuffle groove, and then turning over into “Done Somebody Wrong.” Derek’s slide licks pave the way for Warren’s ferocious vocals. Hall takes a big harp solo in the middle, Warren takes a solo, leading back into his vocals, Derek tosses slide licks over the beat. Can I call the opening song a highlight?
Quickly the opening keyboard lines to “Come and Go Blues,” again Warren singing, and Barraco playing some appropriately wistful keys. With Warren singing, it actually becomes a different song. Both Gregg’s and Warren’s vocal persona combine defiance with world-weariness; but Gregg leans more toward world-weary, and Warren toward defiant… Derek solos, Warren gets all up in him, feeling every line, gives back a little, a little more, and soon it’s a twisted pair of soaring screaming bliss.
“Oh my,” it says in my notebook. An auspicious beginning.
Warren’s big, manly vocals on “End of the Line” give the song a somewhat different spin; the tune features more Derek/Warren crunchy grind. Warren is marching through the Gregg songbook like Sherman marching through Georgia. On “Dusk Till Dawn” Barraco offers a stylish solo, echoed by Kofi on flute, and followed by a Derek sunburst. Jay Collins on sax sounds like he’s hanging out of a Bourbon Street window at 2AM; Warren goes way down to the gut to pull out his solo. Derek and Kofi play together; then Derek walks back and lstens to his white hot solo standing right in front of his amp.
Jimmy Hall comes back for “Can’t Lose What You Never Had,” taking the lead vocals. Warren turns full body to him, and let me tell you, when Warren churns that hard rhythm and makes that face at you, brother, you’d better blow. So Jimmy blows.
The keyboard players switch places for “True Gravity;” the theme licks are fresh and full. The drums scatter like a flock of birds, Oteil rides with the flock, Derek paints with majesty across the sky. Oteil reflects a mirror image back at Derek– going low where Derek goes high– Warren falls in, then they stop and nail the theme again. Susan Tedeschi joins for Gregg’s solo “All My Friends”– at which point I’m reminded of the Gregg tribute show in Atlanta earlier in the year; maybe the band is paying tribute to him tonight as well, pulling out a couple of songs tonight that Gregg has written or sung, for the first time of the run. Susan handles the lead vocals, and Jimmy answers beautifully on harp; Derek plays a sweet and graceful solo.
Jimmy launches a harmonica hootenanny that becomes the shuffle of “She Caught the Katy,” the old Taj Mahal blues that was a highlight on the last night of the 2012 run, another night when Gregg was out and Jimmy helped fill in. There’s a killer, text book Chicago blues harp solo (somewhere Little Walter is smiling). Derek rides the glass all the way up to the very top of the neck. Then Jimmy and Susan augment the band for “Revival,” with Warren, then Jimmy, then Susan each singing a verse. Kofi goes off on a pretty and happy solo, then Derek and the drums take a run, Warren offers a nourishing dose of guitar, and of course everyone is singing the “People can you feel it? Love is everywhere!”refrain, until the Beacon has become a church. It’s like an all-you-can-eat buffet for your heart.
The first set, it should now be clear, was epic.
“You Don’t Love Me” opens the second set, more bluesy than the traditional band version, with Jimmy on vocals and a lot of harp. Barraco takes a solo, then Derek moseys over to Kofi for Kofi’s organ solo, egging him on; then Derek gets an idea, Jimmy seems to cut him off, Derek goes again, then the musical tension resolves into a jam they ride out to the close.
Junior Mack is featured on “Aint Wastin’ Time No More,” contributing both lead vocal and guitar. Cool Rob Barraco waves roll in, heralding the song. Derek lays on some creamy icing, Junior plays a bluesy outro solo. “Black Hearted Woman” is a high-intensity song that is a prelude to itself, as the real action begins after they’ve run through the body of the song. The band builds tension running into the coda, round and round, till vertigo sets in, and then more, and faster… wih a slam they switch into the “Other One” jam that is a minor variation on the song’s outro, Oteil rocks the drums, then a full band rush, Derek and Kofi meld and churn it up. A good, killer, in yo’ face version of the song.
Susan comes back out for “Feel So Bad,” she and Derek going off together at the end, Susan full bodied blues shouting, Derek responding. Susan testifies, then Warren rocks you like a baby. After the song, Susan gives Derek a little kiss on the cheek before demurely departing, as derisive “awws” rain down on him.
And then “Dreams.” Derek fills the room with tone, Kofi accents, Derek pours out washes of texture that Kofi dances over. Derek trills and flits. Warren takes a solo that becomes a duet, as if they can’t decide who should solo so both solos converge, making a sweet baby that resembles both parents. Out of an epic “Dreams” the band creates some smoky “Liz Reed” type space, then tumble into “Les Brers.” Barraco does an organ run, Derek takes a turn, falling off the melody, the front line falling away gradually to Oteil and the drummers, then just drums, a cool refreshing interlude. Out the other end Derek gets up a full head of steam on rhythm; it becomes a tease of ‘Why Does Love Got to Be So Sad?” Moves away from the tease and into another jam, the guitarists pull it in center stage (Derek, Warren and now Jimmy Vivino); soon someone hits the opening chords and indeed they go back and play “Why Does Love…” Susan strolls on casually, just in time to sing the chorus, then Vivino takes the second verse, and runs the voodoo down on guitar; then Jay Collins sprays some jazzy light, Derek takes a run that turns into a three-guitar huddle, each man peeling off joyful licks. Collins plays some sweet, pretty sunset over the guitars… a brief stop, then Derek hits the chords that drive the band back into the rest of “Les Brers,” Jimmy Hall now on sax making a two-man horn section with Jimmy Hall. All in, the “Les Brers/drums/WDLGTBSS/Les Brers” medley runs almost a half hour, some serious derring do.
Of course tonight the encore is “Southbound,” with almost everyone back out (not Kofi though; Warren tells us he’s had to split for his BB King gig.) Lots of Vivino, lots of Jimmy Hall. It’s well after midnight when the final chords and notes crash down. A full weekend without Gregg… but a great weekend of music nonetheless, and I can’t imagine anyone is disappointed.