LIVE: Hot Tuna @ The Egg, 12/7/14
Review by Richard Brody
Photographs by Andrzej Pilarczyk
The shouts of “Jorma!” that came from the near-capacity crowd were an indication that there were few, if any, first time Hot Tuna fans in The Egg’s Hart Theatre. Accompanying Jorma Kaukonen and co-founding bass man Jack Casady was frequent Tuna member mandolinist Barry Mitterhoff, as well as a trio of the band’s Woodstock family – drummer Justin Guip, vocalist Teresa Williams and her husband/string master Larry Campbell on fiddle, pedal steel and guitar.
The band kicked off the show with one of their staples, Kaukonen’s “True Religion,” that was highlighted by Mitterhoff’s sweet mandolin solo and Campbell’s shimmering slide guitar that brought the song to its conclusion.
Hot Tuna has always been about the country blues that howl about the sins of Saturday night and the gospel-flavored songs that ask for forgiveness in church on Sunday morning. Casady strutted, pogoed and drove the band on Muddy Waters’ “I Can’t Be Satisfied.” His bass anchored and pushed both Kaukonen’s vocals and the guitar solos from Kaukonen and Campbell. As fine a guitarist as Kaukonen is, his voice would not fit in a church choir. Enter Williams, who brought the “amen” to Reverend Gary Davis’ “Children of Zion” that included great supporting solos from Mitterhoff’s mandolin, Kaukonen’s guitar and Campbell’s slide. They stayed in church for the next number, a roof-raising rendition of “Wade in the Water” that was once again led by Williams’ powerhouse vocals.
Casady and Kaukonen’s early fame came from their tenure in the Jefferson Airplane, who were part of San Francisco’s Haight Ashbury musical community. They paid their respects to those days with the Hunter/Garcia song “Sugaree,” complete with shuffling beat and a presentation that contained both roars and whispers. The solos from Kaukonen and Campbell were fine, but it was the mandolin solo by Mitterhoff and Williams’ rising and falling vocals that would probably have put the biggest smile on Mr. Garcia’s face.
The surprise of the evening began with the immediately recognizable march-like, drum ‘n’ bass intro that was quickly followed by a slightly distorted psychedelic guitar riff, and we were off to Wonderland. Williams told us what the door mouse said – hitting all the high notes on the repeated “feed your head” exhortations. The bandmembers had big grins on their faces at song’s end, and the audience responded with a loud standing ovation. The only thing missing was the Joshua Light Show.
The band displayed their versatility on a number of other occasions: Campbell’s fiddle playing on “Mama Let Me Lay It On You” and his pedal steel work on “Bar Room Crystal Ball”; the band’s acoustic performance of “Deep Elem Blues”; and Kaukonen’s self-deprecating “Second Chances” that was dedicated to his wife on this their 26th anniversary.
The evening ended with the band showing their jamming chops beginning with “Hit Single #1” that had a ZZ Top-like rhythm held down by Justin Guip’s drumming that was followed by “Funky #7” that gave every band member some time to stretch out before the rhyhtm section led the band back to the song’s conclusion. The band might have been done, but the crowd wasn’t, and with some encouragement we were treated to another Tuna staple, “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning.”
It was a fine evening of music that ended with a smiling band taking their bows to a very happy and thankful audience.
Frequent Nippertown visitors Donna the Buffalo opened the show with a 45-minute set led by guitarist Jeb Puryear and multi-instrumentalist Tara Nevins. The rhythmically charged band hit their stride with “Funky Side” and displayed their zydeco influences with a cover of Clifton Chenier’s “Hot Tamale Baby.”
HOT TUNA SET LIST
Mama Let Me Lay It on You (Blind Boy Fuller)
Ode for Billy Dean
I Can’t Be Satisfied (Muddy Waters)
Been So Long
Children of Zion (Rev. Gary Davis)
Wade in the Water (Fisk Jubilee Singers)
White Rabbit (Jefferson Airplane)
Deep Elem Blues (traditional)
Bar Room Crystal Ball
Sugaree (Grateful Dead)
Hit Single #1
Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning (traditional)