North Mississippi Allstars, New Daisy Theatre, Memphis, TN- 9/26
Let me start off by acknowledging the fact that it's not often one can honestly say they've been enlightened, had their eyes openedreally been blown away at a concert. For some, perhaps it was the first time they saw the Grateful Dead, or Phish. For me, that moment was a few months ago, in the quaint town of Tupelo, Mississippi, at the annual Elvis Presley festival. After having listened to the North Mississippi Allstars' studio recordings and live shows on CD for a year or so, I finally got a chance to catch them live. In their home state, in the hometown of the Elvis Presley, the king himself, the NMA almost knocked me out of my shoes. Needless to say, I was stoked to find out that the Allstars would be coming to my hometown, and performing just two blocks from my apartment at the New Daisy Theatre. Even better, they were doing an in-store performance at a local Cats Music store at lunchtime earlier that day. Rarely do you get to see one of your favorite bands twice in one day.
The in-store performance was very intimate; an all-acoustic set up, with brother Cody Dickinson, normally on drums (or electric washboard,) joining his brother Luther and Duwayne Burnside on guitar, and Chris Chew on bass as usual. With about 75 people in attendance, it was a warm atmosphere, considering the people were strewn about the store, standing in aisles. The boys opened up with the first single off their new album, "Eyes." 107.5 the Pig, the radio station that was putting the in-store on, has been giving "Eyes" heavy rotation of late, so this was somewhat expected. They played a few more new songs (Be So Glad, and Meet Me in the City,) before closing with "KC Jones," a track off of their first release. It's always interesting to hear plugged-in songs played acoustically. You get the feeling of how a lot of their tunes were created. A performance like this creates the ambiance that you're sitting around in one of the guys' living rooms on a Sunday afternoon, just kicking back, listening to a bunch of friends playing good music. The Cats in-store was a great way to kick off a "North Mississippi Allstars Friday," a great way to spend a lunch break, and a teaser for what the night would bring.
The show at the New Daisy was dubbed their "CD Release Party," and calling it a party is an understatement. The opening band, Sharde Thomas and the Rising Star Fife and Drum Band, was something to be seen. Thomas, the late, great Otha Turner's granddaughter, is about 13 years old, and she's the bandleader. Thomas played both Fife and keyboard, and in front of the large crowd showed poise beyond her years. Despite the fact that after a few songs everything started to sound alike, the Rising Star Fife and Drum band gave the crowd a taste of what true hill-country Mississippi blues sounds like. With Luther Dickinson sat in on the first few songs, Sharde and co. were a great way to start the evening.
The thing that makes Warren Sapp a great defensive lineman for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers is that he's a perfect blend of strength and skill…a prototypical defensive football player, if you will. The same can be said for the North Mississippi Allstarsall of the members of the band are technically sound musicians, and together they can play anything from blues to loud, solid rock and roll. So, when Chris Chew came onto the stage in a Sapp jersey, we knew we were in for a treat. The fact that Chew is probably a more physically imposing human than Sapp just makes that comparison all the more fitting. A CD release party in their second hometown was sure to be a special night, and when all was said and done, there couldn't have been a disappointed soul there.
A CD release party was sure to bring the lion's share of tunes off of their new disc Polaris, and the NMA played about two thirds of the tracks from it. The first five songs of the set were all from the new CD, and ran the gamut from blues to pop, to heavier songs like "All Along," a song with a driving metal-ish riff behind Luther’s soulful slide. Midway through the set, the troupe from Sharde Thomas’s band came onstage, and then the party really started. "Shake Em on Down" and "Station Blues" had the three snare drummers from the Drum and Fife band, and having four drummers on stage whipped the crowd into a frenzy. Soon after, Cody Dickinson came from behind the drum kit, switched places with Duwayne Burnside, and took over on guitar. We were also treated to Cody’s signature electric washboard solo, showing his diversity, as he not only played drums, but guitar, washboard, and sang a few songs as well, all in one night. It was a two-encore night, with the first being fan favorites "Sugartown" and "KC Jones," and the band coming back out for "All Night Long > Lovelight."
The highlight of the night, had to be "Po Black Maddie > Skinny Woman > Po Black Maddie." Every band has a song that is "their" song, the song that blows the roof off every time they play it, and this is the Allstars' song. It allows for Luther to let himself go, shows why he is one of the more under-appreciated guitarists out there and why the North Mississippi Allstars should be mentioned in the same sentences as any other band on the jamband scene today. It's ten to fifteen minutes of pure bliss every time this song is played, and is guaranteed to bring the roof down. Anyone that has never heard it should go try to find a copy of a NMA live show right nowif you're not a fan of theirs yet, you will be after hearing this song.
Now, everyone at one time or another has been to party, where at the end of the night, one of the guests just wouldn't leave, and this concert was somewhat like that. RL Boyce, the elder gentleman of Sharde Thomas's band, was continually on stage, dancing, shaking his rear, and at one point even pulling a girl out of the crowd to dance on stage. He could be found playing guitar, not plugged into any amp, during songs, and just generally having a good time. At one point, the Allstars guitar techs had to drag him off the stagea quite humorous exchange.
The Allstars played a good amount of Polaris, but mixed in all of the songs long-time fans wanted to hear. On a side note, the band was video taping the performance, possibly for an official release later on. With every band that gets big, they have a CD that can be considered it’s "coming-out," and for the North Mississippi Allstars, Polaris could be the door-opener to mainstream rock and roll. Hopefully, they'll continue to treat their fans to great performances like the one in Memphis this past Friday. As long as Luther and Co. keep playing the blues with the soul and passion that they had at the New Daisy, we'll be satisfied for years to come.