The evening got off to a somewhat rocky start with “Let’s Get Started,” a brand new original tune sung by Machan Taylor that the band had never played before. While the song was solid, the playing was too tentative.
Thankfully, it didn’t take long for the band to kick into gear. Of course, that’s no surprise when the musicians are of the caliber of organist Pete Levin, bassist Graham Maby and drummer Gary Burke.
David Malachowski was clearly in charge, frequently nodding in soloists and shouting out cues. As a singer, his vocal approach is intriguingly low-key, but it’s the perfect foil for the reach-for-the-sky vocal acrobatics of Taylor. And his guitar-playing is simply exceptional: He can cut loose and scream up the fretboard with the best of them, but he does so only rarely, preferring to bolster the songs in a more subtle – and suitable – fashion.
The two-hour show served as the CD release party for Malachowski’s long-overdue solo CD, “The Secret Life of Colonel David,” on which he played all of the instruments himself. With an ace six-piece band behind him, the slinky, understated “Jump Up” and the introspective, folksy “Day Is Done” took on new colorations, especially with the crying Malachowski-Maby duet intro and Daniel Weiss‘ sparkling piano playing on the latter tune. But it was “I’m Goin’ Down to Newberg” that shone the brightest, a wailing blues with a twist – it’s in 7/4 time – fueled by the supple but solid rhythm section of Burke and Maby.
The bandmembers – Malachowski included – are best known as session players, but this band offers each player the opportunity to stretch out and do their thing, and they made the most of it. Organist Levin and vocalist Taylor grabbed the reins for the evening’s most unlikely – and perhaps most thrilling – selection – Miles Davis’ “All Blues.” Levin also sat in the catbird seat for a romp through Booker T & the MGs’ classic “Green Onions.” Pianist Weiss ably handled the lead vocals on Bob Dylan’s blues, “Obviously Five Believers.”
But it was harmonica man Dennis Gruenling who nearly stole the show out from under Malachowski, wailing and howling with an unholy passion. On his showcase number, Little Walter’s “That’s It,” he was bending notes and his body as he breathed fire through his Green Bullet microphone like a bluesman possessed.
When the band launched into the blues warhorse “Stormy Monday” near the end of the show, I thought, “Oh, no, do we really need to hear another version of this?” About five notes into Gruenling’s solo, I thought, “Well, yes, I guess we do.”
Things were at their highwater mark, musically speaking, when another (unannounced) Woodstock allstar joined the fray. Marshall Crenshaw jumped onstage, strapped on a guitar and helped take the closing volley of Traffic’s “Feelin’ Alright” – Crenshaw even sang a verse – and the saucy blues chestnut “Wang Dang Doodle” to new heights.
“We’re gonna pitch a wang dang doodle all night long.” Indeed.
David Malachowski & the Woodstock Allstars are playing at the Iridium in NYC on Wednesday (January 27), and they’ll return to Albany on Thursday, February 11 to headline the “Hearts 4 Haiti” benefit concert at the Palace Theatre.
From David Singer in the Daily Gazette: “The night was a hodge-podge of world-class musicians — based in Woodstock — who got to fly their flags a bit more than usual. While a portion of the night felt like a rehearsal with the more contemporary, composed tunes, when they dropped into their home-court blues groove, it was jamming at its finest.”
DAVID MALACHOWSKI & THE WOODSTOCK ALLSTARS SET LIST
Let’s Get Started
Further On Up the Road
Day Is Done
Obviously Five Believers
I’m Goin’ Down to Newberg
Wang Dang Doodle