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Published: 2004/06/27
by Jamie Gustafson

Col. Bruce Hampton & The Codetalkers, Pack Square, Asheville, NC- 6/18

We all know about Bruce Hampton. He's the "Godfather of Southern Alternative Music" with direct lineage to jamlegends Widespread Panic, Phish, The Allmans and more. Most of us initially became infected with his deep-fried flavors of weird while he lead the seriously sick Aquarium Rescue Unit across the land in the late 80's-early 90s (his musical history stretches far before ARU, though too much to explore here).

Hampton serves as a mythic figurehead of the jam scene, for artists and fans alike. His current band, the Codetalkers, setup on the streets of downtown Asheville for an eclectic electric set, led by banjo-stud Bobby Lee Rodgers. This free show, the latest in a series of "Downtown After Five" shows presented in Asheville (later bills this summer to include King Johnson and Jupiter Coyote) saw an appreciative and enthusiastic crowd manuever through ARU staples "Fixin’ to Die," "Workin’ on a Buildin’" and current Codetalkers tunes.

Rodgers is dizzying on the banjo, blending jazz-fused solos and funky rhythms. He is a significant talent and the undisputed musical star of a Codetalkers set, as witnessed in an early "Compared to What." Energetic bassist Ted Pecchio was bounding across the stage, once ending up on Rodgers’ shoulders to battle drummer Tyler Greenwell on a great drum and bass solo exchange. In all, the Codetalkers seemed emotionally loose and musically tight throughout the night, highlighted by a delicious "Lima."

Some of the times I’ve seen post-ARU Hampton, he’s been incoherent and a musical non-factor. Last Friday, however, Hampton was frequently squeezing his guitar into solos, sounding fresh and musically motivated. Basically, the guy was obviously having a blast and it carried over into his playing. Bruce was comical, yet still groovy. Over the course of only a couple songs, he was seen moving across the stage darting invisible beings, stopping to stare off in the corner of the sky, sliding the guitar behind his neck for a quick Hendrix-like blast, his eyes suddenly bulging at the sight of his hands on his guitar, followed by a quick smile and a slow walk back to his stage right hangout.

Other times, it has seemed like these usual Hampton antics have been an act. Like, "people think I’m this weird dude so I better do some weird shit." For whatever reason, this show seemed like Bruce was being Bruce. Authentic. Funny. Reminding us how desperately important it is to be different, to be serious about not-being serious, to set up camp outside of ourselves every now and then. Meanwhile, the music was groovy and neck-nodding as hell. A great show in a great environment.

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