Opening Night: 3/10/11 by Josh Chasin
The Reverend Ike's church uptown was all well and good, but for the congregation, it was good to be back home. It was a super-solid show, heavily rhythmic, no guests at all, just takin' care of business, and a stake in the ground to kick start the run...
Here's the setlist:
Drums > vamp (Spanish Key?) > Drums >
Sailin' Cross the Devil's Sea >
Walk On Gilded Splinters
Come and Go Blues
Worried Down With the Blues
Kind of Bird
Trouble No More
Woman Across the River
One Way Out
Blind Willie McTell
High Cost of Low Living
Hoochie Coochie Man
Leave My Blues at Home > bass> drums > Leave My Blues at Home
The lights have gone down, the curtain is still down, and a percussive beat from the stage slowly evolves into a thick "Gilded Splinters"-like driving beat, but most in the house don't even realize the show has begun. Then the curtain rises on the back line, the front liners come on and take position, Gregg last, the drumming insistent and pounding. Derek vamps some droplets over the rhythm as others tune... then Warren adds a little wah-wah, and Derek departs on some exposition (that may have been Miles Davis's "Spanish Key," or may have been reminiscent of it)... four minutes in on the vamp, no one seems in any rush at all... Oteil brings the thunda, Warren the lightning... I'm at the metaphorical edge of my seat and they haven't even played the song yet (which at this point I am still sure will be "Gilded Splinters.") Finally Warren faces the drums and they count in a crunchy version of "Sailin' Cross the Devil's Sea,"the first song proper of the run. Then out of that a reprise of the opening drumming motif, and now, finally, it is "Splinters."
Derek is wistful as always on "Come and Go Blues," then Warren gets all "Worried Down With the Blues." The band moves through the verse, then Derek stings in the middle of some slow piercing blues space as Warren brushes a gentle shuffle chord rhythm (in all the lead guitar pyrotechnics, never make the mistake of overlooking his gorgeous blues rhythm playing.) Then Warren steps forward and plays the blues.
On comes the instrumental thumpa dump of "Kind of Bird." Derek is drawn to Gregg, plying rhythm off of Gregg's keyboard fills and colorations as Warren looks over; Warren tears while Derek plays a chunky, beefy rhythm. Toward the end Derek leads the band as they slow down, through some long, slow extended crescendo; I think to myself, if I could stretch a climax out like that I would have been way more popular when I was single... then a big bad Butch bam boom, and a sprint to the close.
"Trouble No More," Gregg vocals are on; then "Woman Across the River." About two thirds in, Warren and Derek do the chunka chunka dance, then Warren sizzles. "One Way Out" closes the set, Derek is over in Gregg's house again, grooving with Gregg as he peels off the licks. All night the Derek/Gregg magnetism is evident, and as the band finishes up and walks off, smiles all around.
My main man Jaimoe comes out prior to set two to dedicate the run to a fallen brother, Red Dog. In that light, the elegiac "Blind Willie McTell" that opens set two is especially poignant. A year since busting this Dylan cover out at the Palace, it is fair to say the band now owns the song; it is a mournful and deep dark blues. I think they take it a tad slower now, all to the good.
Next up are "Midnight Rider," then "High Cost of Low Living," two songs that are just-so stories in the set; Derek is a silvery flash on the outro to "High Cost," then Derek and Warren put it to bed and tuck it in. A Butch flourish, and then the moody, spacy instrumental "Bag End." Once the song part is out of the way, Derek takes us into a trippy, tonal space. It seems like a "Derek" night to me, but then, I am sitting right in front of him...
Next the band eases into a slow grinding familiar blues riff, the "I'm a Man" riff that fuels so many classic blues tunes, including the one they are about to play, as Warren sings the lyric to "Hoochie Coochie Man," but is is an achingly slow version, till they get through one round of the verse; then they speed back up to finish the song. I wold have loved to hear it all slow, but it rocks either way...
"Leave My Blues at Home" is the drum solo vehicle; as the band strips away to leave the engine room percolating, the drummers pound with the chunky energy that has been propelling the music since before the curtain went up, and that has defined the evening for me... then the rest of the players return and grind on to the close, from which emerges "Revival," a taut version, which as set-closer perfectly walks the line between the groove and the jam.
When the band rolls out "Southbound" as an encore, I wonder for a minute if maybe I'd missed a guest sax player or something... but no, the song is less circular than it is with many guests, and driven by Gregg's singing and a great two-man guitar call and response capping a richly rewarding night; just the core band doing what they do best, in the place they do it best, in front of the people who love it most.
I'm only hitting seven shows this year but will write about then all; next up is Saturday.
Added: Tuesday, March 29, 2011
Reviewer: josh chasin