Review by Stanley Johnston
The Warren Haynes Band started out rocking hard and heavy at The Egg on Saturday night, but finished sweet and soulful.
Haynes’ first visit to the Albany orb-shaped venue was the second area visit by his fifth or sixth band. It’s hard to keep track: the Dickey Betts Band at the Starlite Music Theatre; the first Warren Haynes eponymous band at the Saratoga County Fair; the Allman Brothers Band at SPAC, the Palace and Mountain Jam; Phil Lesh & Friends (and also the Dead) at SPAC and the TU Center; Gov’t Mule at Northern Lights, the Palace, Proctors, the Startlite and Mountain Jam; and possibly, does anybody remember if he played with David Allen Coe opening for Neil Young at RPI in the ’80s? Maybe not, but he’s been a regular visitor to this area.
This version of the Warren Haynes Band played at Mountain Jam in 2011. I remember thinking that it was a nice change of pace into soul music, although the band’s set seemed a little lightweight compared to Gov’t Mule’s set during the same weekend. (In all fairness, there aren’t too many bands that play music quite as heavy as the Mule.) Now more than a year later, this band has matured into a force to be reckoned with in comparison to all of Warren’s other projects.
The Egg show featured essentially the same core band that appears on the Live at the Moody Theater CD/DVD, including Ron Holloway on saxophone, Ron Johnson on bass, Terence Higgins on drums, Nigel Hall on keyboards and vocals and Alecia Chakour on vocals.
After some pre-concert tuning by the always-entertaining guitar tech Brian Farmer, the band jumped right into the title track of “Man in Motion,” with Haynes and Holloway wasting no time in trading hot licks between the guitar and sax and building the song into the kind of barnburner that some bands would be happy to have as a set-closer rather than an opener.
And rather than pulling back on the next tune, the band stepped it up on “Sick of My Shadow” which, along with some marvelous vocals by Chakour and Hall, led to the first of several standing ovations during the opening set. Things slid into a smokey “On a Real Lonely Night,” with the line, “I can almost see your face” seeming particularly effective, before the band quoted Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile.” Then they were off into a funky groove, with propulsive drumming by Higgins and insistent bass by Johnson, one of several times the rhythm section got the band swinging hard.
A spacey intro, echoing some of Warren’s excursions in the Dead Zone, resolved into Warren singing “All of my love” and Chakour singing “We swam in the river” over a reggae-drenched beat. One of Warren’s truly great songs, “I’ll Be The One” featured some soulful backing vocals by Hall as Warren sang, “Don’t use me up or I’ll be the one who used to worship you.”
Without stopping, Warren showed how much he learned from playing with Dickey Betts for so many years with a tone-perfect take on “Blue Sky”, which morphed into The Staple Singer’s “I’ll Take You There” with more excellent vocals by Chakour. The jam wound back into “Blue Sky” and finally back to “I’ll Be The One.” How’s that for referencing so many different styles within the framework of a Dead-style jam? After another ovation and the following intermission, I wondered if the band would continue this kind of intensity in the second set.
If the second set didn’t have the fire of the first, it was more soulful, which is really this band’s strength. “Invisible” moved through a drum solo by Higgins and the first appearance of Haynes’ slide playing during the evening. The jam ended in rapid-fire bass drumming (like Matt Abts in the Mule) and wove into a bluesy “A Change Is Gonna Come.” Chakour’s vocals on this brought a big smile to Warren’s face. Hall’s vocal was also highlighted, and when the three sang together on the line, “There’s been times when I thought,” it was spine-tingling.
Jimi Hendrix was again quoted in a unique arrangement of “Spanish Castle Magic,” followed by “Hattiesburg Hustle,” the closest the band came to approximating the sound of the Mule. The band wound up with a funky take on “Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home,” as Holloway and Haynes demonstrated “How to make it greasy.” Trading off solos again, the two quoted “Eleanor Rigby.” There was time for one encore, a stirring “Soulshine,” on which Chakour’s vocals really made the lyrics ring true.