Fox Theater; 9-25-04 (Josh Chasin)
Les Brers Overture >
Don’t Want You No More >
Not My Cross to Bear
Who’s Been Talkin’
Good Clean Fun
Woman Across the River
The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down
Leave My Blues At Home
Key to the Highway
Don’t Think Twice (with Susan Tedeschi-Trucks)
One Way Out (with Vaylor Trucks)
Blue Sky >
Now I can be honest. Friday night’s show, by any measure, was outstanding. It is true that the band seemed to be getting their collective legs back during the first set; to their credit, though, they selected material that suited the task. If it was the only show you saw all year, you walked out blown away.
But Saturday… Saturday night at the Fox was one of those rare, magic shows, the ones that keep you coming back for more, the ones with that ineffable, impossible-to-describe (but I’ll try) quality. It isn’t about this song or that song; it is a holistic thing, the flow, the vibe, the way you walk out into the night basking in the glow. The way they leave you feeling so much better than when they found you. Saturday night… that’s what I’m talking about.
The band opened with the overture to “Les Brers”; some might not have recognized it as such and thought it was pre-show jamming, but I had the advantage (or disadvantage, as we’ll see) of having seen the setlist, and it was on there. The build-up, the swelling, with Derek leading the charge… And then, just when the song proper would have kicked in, the Gregg count off, and they’re into “Don’t Want You No More.” Derek’s playing is sprightly; Warren pulls pained blues notes from his guitar. The dash to the transition, and then Warren lays the nasty blues mustard onto the opening lines of “Not My Cross to Bear.” Gregg fiercely snarls out the gritty vocals to the hometown crowd. Derek pulls out a rich, creamy note, and then churns it up into a classic delta blues slide solo.
Next the band launches immediately into the welcome, traditional follow-up, “Statesboro Blues,” an unabashed crowd pleaser. Warren excels, riding atop the bluesy boogie shuffle, before the band quite literally brings the trifecta home.
“Standback” is up next. A naturally distinctive riff, Oteil has now made the bass line to this song into perhaps their most immediately recognizable. Warren smolders over Oteil’s vamping on the riff, then Gregg leans into the vocals. On the solo break, Derek creates one of those frenzies of notes before easing back into the song’s melody.
Next the drummers create a plush, expansive rhythmic bed, no strings. After they percolate a good while, Warren steps up and leans into the opening lick of “Who’s Been Talkin’,” a sleeper of a tune, but one of my favorites, and probably a hallmark of where the Brothers are at these days. There is a hectic guitar dash, then Warren states the riff again and hits the vocals. Derek and Warren take the understated blues to frenetic heights on the instrumental break, the band locking in, before finding their way to a sweet, graceful touchdown.
Warren launches into the lilting intro to “Soulshine,” and again the crowd erupts. Derek testifies on a slide solo; then Warren goes minor key, a little bit gospel, a little bit roadhouse. Then back into the vocals. Warren testifies on the outro, then he and Derek are trading lines, and it is pure reward, it seems almost wrong that it is this easy to create this much joy as they peel off those feel-good licks; Oteil, who cannot resist joy, becomes a third lead instrument at the end.
Warren’s nasty rhythm work remains the key to the driving “Good Clean Fun.” After the verse Derek takes the first solo, then Warren the second. “Old Before My Time” makes a soft, gradual entrance, Derek gently picking out the notes as Gregg sings the first verse, then chording behind him for the second. Warren plays a slide solo that can only be described as mellow, on what is essentially a folk song (imagine a rendition, solo voice and guitar. Or better, learn the chords and play one.)
On “Woman Across the River” the arrangement, but not the playing, seems less aggressive. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Out of the verse Warren takes the first solo, then Gregg adds some tasty keyboard work. Back into the vocals, then Derek plays a hard blues solo. After the final verse Warren and Derek trade short bursts; then there is a brief interlude of twin riffs. This gives way to both guitarists playing simultaneous, totally different solos that somehow fit together; Oteil joins the fun as the song slams to a finish.
Oteil lays down the foundation to “Instrumental Illness.” The song is almost a long medley of distinct movements. In the first movement, Oteil flies across the fret board, and Gregg layers some sweet B3 over the top. In the second movement Marc shines, adding a Latin flavor, Oteil still grounding the piece. Warren chords a solo, then Derek solos, then the two guitars play the theme in harmony. The next section features the drum section, and as the instruments fall away you appreciate how the rhythm section is always there, always the engine room on top of which the rest of the band can build. Warren almost teases “Shakedown Street” before veering off to an “Eleanor Rigby” tease. The drum section is shining, augmenting the melodic work. On top of the drums, Warren leads Derek, Oteil, and Gregg through a series of teases and riffs. Warren moves through “Don’t Mean a Thing If It Aint Got That Swing,” the band locks onto it, and just as quickly they are off into the extended fake “Illness” ending. Inevitably, Oteil resuscitates the song from the ashes, rumbling on the theme, leading the band back through the final movement, and to set break.
It was a top-notch set. And it was just the beginning.
The band opens set two with “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” At the Beacon this is a classic rock staple, but at the Fox, it is… more. The crowd is extremely enthusiastic at the selection, and it is a sing-along. Derek solos into the verse, then on the break he plays a sort of left field solo that leads perfectly into the “na-na” section.
“Leave My Blues At Home” features some aggressive singing by Gregg, and some nice guitar harmony work in the classic Allman Brothers tradition. A brief drum section again features Marc over the top of a solid Butch/Jaimoe base. After the final verse there is sizzling guitar work, first a trade-off of licks, then unison playing to drive the song to a close.
“Key to the Highway” is an easy, shuffling 8-bar blues. After Gregg’s first verses, Warren positively bleeds the strings; all night he is in the blues pocket. Then Derek comes in so high on the fret board he’s practically playing the next guitar over. He fills the hall with a burst of notes. Warren sings, then Derek’s solo is a slow build, with fat bluesy slide lines. Warren squares off, pushing Derek to a thrilling glassy note that fills the old, majestic hall. As Gregg’s vocals begin, the savvy crowd is offering appreciative applause to Derek’s soaring guitar work.
The incandescent Susan Tedeschi strolls demurely on stage, and while there is much huddling, by now it is clear that she will be singing “Don’t Think Twice.” I remain convinced that this song is essentially a duet with Derek, although the full band does play; the core dynamic is between Susan’s voice and Derek’s six-string voice. Derek provides the usual achingly sweet bluesy guitar, and at song’s end Susan gives him a kiss on the cheek, then scoots back offstage to young Charlie.
Our own Vaylor Trucks joins the band on the left side of the stage for “One Way Out,” taking the first solo, a jaunty run on which he acquits himself nicely. Another brief drum interlude, Derek plays on the return. It is yet another crowd pleaser; all weekend I met people who told of seeing the band in Piedmont Park, and the songs from those days seem to generate the biggest response.
At this point, something very special happens. As I mentioned, I had seen the setlist before the show. And when I saw this song listed, I was convinced it was a mistake. No, I was assured; “that’s why we rehearsed this afternoon.” All night I was busting with the knowledge; now I felt like the only schmuck in the house who didn’t get to experience the sheer surprise. “We get a lot of requests for this one,” Gregg says, and the band is off into the opening lines of “Blue Sky.” It is a song they have not played since May of 2000.
It is pretty clear that the song has made the set because the band will be playing the entire Eat a Peach album live for XM Radio in a few days. But right now that doesn’t matter. Right now, all that matters is that Warren and Derek are positively hitting the note on the riffs, licks, and solos, and Gregg is forcefully singing the vocals, and suddenly it feels sort of… right. Derek takes the first solo, starting off soaring. Then from there he flies away. He is reinventing the song, occasionally alluding to the traditional solos. Finally Derek returns to earth and states the transition riff. Warren joins in, and after the harmony hand-off Warren is off and running. Warren clings to the song’s core essence, inevitably climbing higher and higher, hitting the note with unabashed “Blue Sky” wailing. Gregg sings the closing verse and chorus, and the band brings the song to a familiar, glorious, ringing close. (“Damn,” you think to yourself. “Am I glad I bought the Instant Live.”)
If you want to catch your breath, you are out of luck. Warren leans on the last note, and it gives way to a big, resonant read of “Dreams,” the only song all weekend the band repeats. Tonight it is Derek’s turn to solo. When he is successful on this one, you ride the music within, and everyone’s trip is unique. Mine was sublime. Derek played, I closed my eyes, and I saw my baby daughter smiling. After some indeterminate amount of time, Derek is moving to the solo crescendo, the band is in that group-mind place, and the song is larger than life. The band slides back into waltz time, and as Gregg climbs back off that mountain you are redeemed, you are saved. Derek adds accents to Gregg’s vocals, and Gregg punctuates the song on organ.
The band leans hard on the end, then immediately picks up “Les Brers” seamlessly from the precise point where they had left off at the show’s opening. Warren pulls off a scorching solo that would have pulled you right out of your seat, if only you weren’t already standing. Derek plays some nice rhythm, providing a transition to a spot-on Gregg organ solo. Marc is riding the wave on top, again bringing that Latino feel to the song, where it feels totally natural. The drummers take over as the other instruments again fall away, but the players do not leave the stage and tonight there is no formal extended drum/bass section. Oteil drops some bass bombs, and Derek joins in, soloing over Oteil and the drummers. One of the things about this band is that they can play as a trio, a foursome, a quintet, etc. Warren and Gregg join back in, and Warren leads the band back into the closing riff, then drives the band to a stop-on-a-dime halt.
The setlist had “Whipping Post” as the encore, but instead the band opted for the obscure little ditty, “Layla.” Derek shreds in a very Derek-like way; as the band has grown comfortable with this song, Derek has moved ever so gradually away from the solo on the original and injected more of his own style. Of course, since his playing is so redolent of Duane’s, he cannot help but remain true to the spirit of the original. Gregg serenades a loving crowd with the piano coda. Derek joins in and plays a simpatico guitar lead over the top.
Almost four hours after it has begun the show is over, just another Saturday night in Hot ‘Lanta. But on this night you are positively glowing. It was one for the ages.
Earlier in the day, a great show at the Cotton Club. The enchanting Donna Hopkins, local blues sensation, played an outstanding set fronting a power trio. Imagine Bonnie Raitt fronting the Mule and you have sort of an idea of her sound. Her tone on both rhythm and lead is biting and full. Her young daughter India was there—I’m guessing around 8 to 10 years old—and she joined mom on vocals for the beautiful “Everything Money Can’t Buy,” a highlight for me. If there is any justice, this woman will be a star.
Her set served to open for Jack Pearson, who HTN’s Bill Ector introduced as “Maybe the best guitar player you’ll ever see.” Save for Jack’s humility, the hyperbole was not entirely unjustified. With his lovely wife on bass, and Floyd Miles sitting in on a couple of numbers, Jack moved from blues to rock to jazzy instrumentals, his touch deft and light and subtle, but somehow at the same time full on and in your face. He filled the tiny room with tasteful playing—tasteful was always the first word that came to mind for me in thinking about Jack’s playing. Everyone in the room was happy, and there isn’t a higher compliment you can pay a musician than that. Of course Jack’s rendition of “I’m Not Crying” was a crowd favorite. That made two fine shows in two days presented by Greg and Barbara Potter and all the good people at GABBA.
Added: Friday, October 01, 2004
Reviewer: josh chasin