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Hot Tuna, Beacon Theatre, NYC: Happy 70th, Jorma! December 4, 2010

Posted by Anton A in American music, Hot Tuna.
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Hot Tuna took over the Beacon Theatre for two nights this weekend to stage a gala celebration of Jorma Kaukonen’s 70th birthday. Both nights featured over three hours of music, two sets split by a 35-40 minute intermission, from some of the best players on the planet. Jack Casady was in top form on the bass, with Barry Mitterhoff on his remarkable array of eclectic stringed instruments and Skoota Warner on drums rounding out the current band. This was the first time I’d seen Skoota in the lineup; his playing is crisp; he seems to add a new layer of energy to the ensemble.

Each night featured a different array of guest artists from Jorma’s and Tuna’s past, present and future. Friday saw Larry Campbell on fiddle and guitar, Warren Haynes on guitar, Bruce Hornsby on dulcimer and keys, Byron House on standup bass, Bill Kirchen (from the legendary Commander Cody and His Lost Planet Airmen) on guitar, all joining the band in various confirgurations. (Specifics are posted on Jorma’s blog, no need for me to repeat them.) Happy Traum, John Hammond and Chris Smither also played and performed some of their own songs.

Every song was a highlight. John Hammond shone with blazing performances of I Can Tell and You Know That’s Cold. Bill Kirchen’s rockabilly playing was a real treat. Jack’s and Byron House’s bass duets on Water Song and 99 Year Blues were mesmerising, full of rich, deep tones you’ll never hear anywhere else. It was truly a special stretch of music that will remain at the top of my jumble of Tuna memories.

Everyone stood out on the twelve-minute rendition of Funky #7, particularly Warren Haynes and Larry Campbell, who punctuated the long jam in the middle with a stunning duelling-guitars conversation that evolved into a sweet stretch of Allman-style harmonizing riffs.

Saturday’s guests were Tuna alumni Pete Sears on keys, Michael Falzarano on guitar and Bob Steeler on drums. Oteil Burbridge brought his bass wizardry to the mix, while Bob Weir peppered the evening with that old San Francisco vibe. Steve Earle added real fire with peformances of Nothing Brings You Down Like Your Home Town and Brand New Companion, and then some tasty guitar work on the last two songs of the night. I don’t think of Earle primarily as a guitarist, but I really enjoyed his approach to playing the electric.

The Burbridge-Casady interplay on Bowlegged Woman, Walking Blues and 99 Year Blues was astounding. The Steeler-Warner drumming duo cranked up the energy at the end of the first set and for the last seven songs in the second. The real showstopper, though, was Bob Weir singing When I Paint My Masterpiece, with Pete Sears on accordion adding just the right accents to bring out the full flavor of that historic song.

What a pair of shows it was. Every time I think of moving away from this area, I remember so many special nights like these and wonder how I could live without them. There’s still no place like New York City.