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ekoostik hookah, House of Blues, Chicago, IL- 12/30

Set One: Raging River, Spiders, Lazy River,Comin' Back To Me, Thief,
Paradise, Keepin' Time (with Jake of Umphrey's McGee), Two-Part Invention,
Another You, Backwoods Rose

Set Two: Float->Funky, Funky Cliff->Since I Laid My Burden Down->Float, My
Own Way, Let's Make It->Boogie Chillun->Let's Make It, Only Falling, Voodoo
Stew, Dragonfly, Black Water (with HUGE crowd singalong)
Encore: Bone

It's been ages since I wrote a whole review of a show with the fervor that I
once did, but this evening at the Chicago House of Blues, inspired me.
After arriving early and meeting with various folks, including an
introduction to the new Hookah soundman, I settled into the taper's nest in
the first balcony of the House. I saw a ton of folks including a family at its first
Hookah show. It's really nice to see young adults with their parents at shows. It gives me
hope for my son attending shows with me someday.

Rebecca's Statue opened the evening with a nice hour long set. I have two
critical observations. First, the group's choice of cover material,
while gutsy, is not entirely suited to their configuration. In the middle
of their set, they pulled out Widespread Panic's "Ain't LIfe Grand." Being
a four piece band, the song was somewhat hollow. In fact, while I've always known
that Sunny Ortiz's percussion was essential to the Panic mix, this more than
confirmed the fact. It was a good effort, but it was done so close to the Panic
version, that comparison's were inevitable.

Conversely, "While My Guitar Gently Weeps" suffered from the problem of
being such a well-known and "sacred" tune that their adventurous
re-inventing of it in "memory" of George Harrison didn't work for me. The
highlights of the evening were their original tunes, especially those
featuring Johnny "Starcat" Polansky from ekoostik hookah. The first time I
saw Rebecca's Statue, they were a five-piece band with a percussionist. At
the time, I didn't think that the percussionist added much to their line-up. In
hindsight, I was terribly wrong. Working with Polansky, Rebecca's original
material took on added life and gained strength. While this may sound nit-picky
and overly critical, I think these guys could become more than just an Illinois
regional band with a little work. I taped them and it was worth the 60
meter DAT.

After a brief intermission, Hookah took the stage with a solid Raging River.
While River is a solid opener, it was quickly usurped by a stunning Spiders.
In the opening solo, Steve Sweney reached for some ingenious
which set the mood for the show. The band was going to go places
it hadn't been before. Bringing the pace down, Lazy River caused
the crowd to drift into a mild sway and brought the energy back down.
This approach to the setlist has worked well for Hookah, and numerous other
jambands, but tonight other issues set in. Comin' Back to Me really brought
the crowd back up to a dancing frenzy. While there were numerous surprises
in this evening's setlist, I was very impressed with the Thief from this
show. In the class of 2001 new songs, Thief was not one of the stronger
pieces. This version really shone like the diamond stars of
which Ed sings. Dave Katz's new tune Paradise provided another relief from
the high energy level.

The real thief of this show, however, was a HUGE Keepin' Time with Jake
Cinninger from Umphrey's McGee. During the section where Sweney takes a
longer guitar solo, there was an honest to goodness old fashioned
headcutting contest between Jake and Steve. Sweney's signature riffs were
laid down with effect. Cinninger, at first, was spinning short, choppy
solos that were reminiscent of Col. Bruce Hampton's work with the early ARU.
Mid-dual, though, Jake laid down a nasty jazz/blues run that set the two
guitarists into a great tete-a-tete. This was a Keepin' Time for the books
as it was replete with Cliff's bow-legged dancing, Johnny hitting notes on
Ed's guitar, Dave on percussion, everything expected in an over the top
performance of this tune.

The set had a couple of long pauses due to technical difficulties. In fact,
the Two-Part Invention late in the first set was a result of this, I
believe, as Steve and Cliff both realized that there was a little too much
silence. Another You is another of the new tunes about which I had
wondered. I had only heard one version of this tune prior to HoB and had
never seen it live. What struck me about it was the seemingly hypnotic
effect it had on the huge crowd at HoB. Time just sort of stopped as
everyone slowly moved with the music. Another surprise of the evening was
the transformation of Backwoods Rose into a set closer. While this tune
ordinarily opens a show or is a second song/first set type of tune, the
band went exploring and broke the song down all the way to this interesting
organ solo by Dave Katz, only to be expanded into a set closing collective jam that
worked, and came close to working very well and with effect.

Set break brought some great interaction with a number of friends, but also
some insight into the set. While the two pauses really broke the energy of
the set for me, Alicia Canary correctly noted that there were a lot of
details in that set. Indeed, the band really stretched out, expanding the
terrain of a couple of new tunes, while reworking and expanding several
older ones.

As we waited for the opening curtain, several of us in the balcony discussed
possible openers and our Fantasy Hookah picks. I knew my pick wasn't going
to be there as it was really apparent that the opener would be an Ed tune,
so I mentioned that I thought it would likely be Dragonfly, though it would
be very cool if the curtains opened to the funk-inflected opening of Float.
As the curtains parted, the band was playing an unusual opening jam that
kicked into a drop-dead awesome version of Float. Again, this tune was
replete with all of the things one expects at a Hookah show of this tune.
Funky, Cliff emerged and wound into an old bluegrass gospel tune
titled Since I Laid My Burden Down. Float ended with a bang and the band
dropped fluidly, after a brief pause, into My Own Way. The energy was just
dripping from the ceiling of the majestic opera house as Hookah proved why
they are perhaps the best smaller market jam band operating today. Cliff
returned to the mic and pulled out his John Lee Hooker collection with Let's
Make It>Boogie Chillun>Let's Make It. With Cliff doing his sidestep dance
and the band playing for all they were worth, the House of Blues erupted.
It wasn't just people on the floor. People were dancing all over the
balcony. People were dancing in the opera boxes ordinarily reserved for
business folks and band guests. People were jumping around all over the
building. Only Falling brought a slight release with its melodic opener,
but the body of the song continued to fuse the crowd with seething energy.

Relief to the heat didn't come, ironically, until Voodoo Stew, which is not
a song that ordinarily would bring the energy down. It did provide a break
in the power that had been brewing since the set opened. That break was
short lived as Ed stepped back up to the microphone and played a
scintillating Dragonfly. Again, the dancers returned to their trade and the
crowd, in general, was reacting to the sounds that surrounded them.
Ordinarily, Black Water is a tune that can maintain the energy while
providing the crowd with a little break. Not so tonight. It seems that the
crowd was needing a sing-along favorite to make the night complete and this
was the opportunity. Indeed, the a cappella vocal jam at the end of the
song was performed almost exclusively by the House of Blues crowd. When the
band returned to the song, though, the power of this tune as a set closer
was confirmed.

Two sets down, the discussion of what the encore would be following a set
like that started. The band answered with the only answer worthy. Bone
shined as an encore and seemed to be the definition of the tone of the night
and the NYE run.

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