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Published: 2001/11/21
by Kevin Ford

The Derek Trucks Band with Matt Witte’s New Blood Revival, The Stone Pony, Asbury Park, NJ – 11/16

The Stone Pony resembled a family reunion of sorts on Friday, as some of the best new and established musicians in the east sat in with each other and traded licks in an intimate display of creative and commanding musicianship. Opening act J Pat, one quarter of the local band Secret Sound, played an ear pleasing set of blues and folk with a twist. Switching back and forth between guitar and mandolin, J Pat put a unique stamp on such classics as "Hear My Train A Comin'" and Howlin' Wolf's "How Many More Years". His set culminated with the original tune "You Don't Talk To Me Like You Did Last Summer", a youthful pine for romance sung in the wizened manner of Sonny Boy Williamson. Pedal steel legend Buddy Cage and Secret Sound washboard player Adam Alexander joined J Pat for the last two tunes, bolstering an already impressive set.

Cage stuck around to sit in with Matt Witte's New Blood Revival, a band whose namesake he has collaborated with several times over the past year. Cage and Witte have obviously struck up quite a musical rapport, as was evident on stage this evening. Musical wizard Jason Crosby, who guests on NBR's latest album "The Slip", sat in on piano and violin. Jordan Katz of the band Rainbow Trout sat in on trumpet and local blues player Big Nancy wailed on harp. NBR's set swung from folk to funk and everything between, held together by the versatile rhythm section of Brett Neilley and John Swayne. On songs like "The Lift" and "Wet Behind The Ears", Neilley's expressive bass recalled Flea at his most understated. And drummer Swayne moved from swing to country to hard rock with both ebullience and ease. Crosby added colorful organ fills to "Wet Behind The Ears" and played some incredible fiddle on the countrified "Two Thousand Dollar Cats". On "Mona", Katz and saxophonist Andy Chen played a duet that electrified the crowd, as though they had played it a hundred times before.

Witte has earned a reputation as an innovative lyricist, with songs that resist the usual Dylan-esque cliches of so many young authors these days. So it was, perhaps, ironic that he should have closed his set with a Dylan tune. From the first thunderclap of Swayne's drums, however, it was obvious this wasn't your father's "Just Like Tom Thumb's Blues Again". Witte rearranged the comparatively slow lament into an up-tempo anthem of resilience, singing the now timely "I'm goin' back to New York City" with fresh defiance. A loyal contingent of fans from their home base of New Brunswick cheered the New Blood Revival from the first song to the last. Yet even the Stone Pony regulars craned their necks and gravitated toward the stage as the set progressed. True to their name, the band is injecting new blood into the tri-state area's live music scene and will be making waves throughout the Northeast soon enough.

The Derek Trucks Band continues to evolve on stage, much to the delight of its fans and the possible chagrin of those Allman fanatics hoping to hear music solely reminiscent of Duane. They opened tonight's set with "Egg 15", an original tune in the Latin jazz vein that let Kofi Burbridge hypnotize the crowd with his flute. Todd Smallie followed him with a mesmerizing bass solo. Javier Colon sang a soulful "For My Brother", with Trucks offering spine tingling slide work that had the newcomers whistling with glee. For "Chicken," Jason Crosby returned to play violin, sharing an impressive duet with Burbridge on keyboards. Later, he and Trucks traded solos on "Burbridge's Bop," complementing each other without competing for attention. Trucks appears on Crosby's debut album "Out Of The Box" and the two obviously have great musical respect for one another, as evinced by their onstage chemistry.

"Drifter" was a spiritual lament, with Colon begging to be taken back home over Burbridge's soulful organ. Immediately but fluidly switching gears, Colon delivered the simmering ballad "Kam-a-lay" in poetic Spanish. He then stepped back while Trucks improvised methodically, utilizing a wavering tone reminiscent of the jazzier Dickey Betts. They ended the set with a "Turn On Your Lovelight" that had Sipe and Smallie swinging like Walter Page and Sonny Payne, and Trucks eliciting delightfully high pitched solos before slowing it down slightly and segueing into Coltrane's "Afro Blue". The crowd hollered for, and received, an encore – "Joyful Noise", dedicated to audience members Mickey and Chris on the occasion of their 8th Anniversary.

Early in his career, Derek Trucks drew as much attention for his youth as for his talent. Shows like the one at the Stone Pony illustrate why age is now irrelevant. Trucks is already a seasoned professional who serves less as a leader than as a catalyst. His abilities on guitar are unparalleled, but it's through his economy of playing that he shows the most maturity. When called for, he will display the occasional flash or take an extended solo. For the most part, however, he prefers to leave room for each band member (and any guest players as well) to contribute his own voice to the mix. The members, in turn, will solo just the right amount and play at just the right volume, without stepping on each other's toes. At the Stone Pony, this resulted in a fluid but concise set that thrilled old fans, won over new ones, and put to rest those pestering pleas for yet another "Whipping Post".

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