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Published: 2004/11/22
by Marley Seaman

Oteil and the Peacemakers, Bach Porch Stage, House of Blues, Chicago, IL- 11/12

Before Oteil and the Peacemakers started their set on Friday at Chicago's House of Blues, the bassist/bandleader announced that the show was being recorded for release as part of a live album. With the tape rolling or the DAT burning, or whatever the correct term is the band delivered an energetic set than lasted more than 2 hours, showcasing its funk, gospel and rock influences.

At the heart of the Peacemakers is the interaction between Burbridge and drummer Chris Fryar. They are the Sun that the rest of the band Mark Kimbrell on guitar, Matt Slocum on keyboards (which were tasteful, if rarely heard) and Paul Henson on vocals rotates around, adding layers and texture to a strong rhythmic core.

With the Allman Brothers, Burbridge keeps time while aggressively pushing the melody forward. In this band, he's less of a rhythm player and more of an active participant in the riffs and hooks of the songs. He doesn't need to solo very often to make an enormous impact on the music. Several songs were stamped with his trademark doubled bass/scat lines, but his longest bass solo may have been played while sitting in with the opening act, Lefty Collins and J.P. Vancura (of Lefty Collins and the No Mercy Band) on an acoustic version of the ABB's In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.

The Peacemakers eased into their set with the instrumental Tubby, then moved into a series of funk-rock songs. The night's third tune, Get Ready, featured a very nice jazzy breakdown in the middle. Kimbrell's clear tone and fast, angular, broken playing also fits the mold. He's something of an odd presence onstage; at times he actually appears to be trying to hide behind his guitar. As the set went on, his soloing got more and more wild, and he was unafraid of being the focal point of the band.

Burbridge is a born-again Christian, and his religion comes through in the lyrics to many of the group's songs. The best of the bunch is No More Doubt, one of the show's early highlights. The words and music combined perfectly, each expressing the same conviction to very moving effect. Kimbrell took a tasteful solo, followed by a tasteful piano break from Slocum. Then the band came back in to take the song to a powerful, wordless climax. It was the most sublime musical moment of the evening.

Henson leaves the stage when the band plays an instrumental, and on this night, the band returned the favor, leaving the singer alone with an acoustic guitar. Henson played, of all things, a Burl Ives cover, followed by an original called Lost. The band returned to play Pull Together, one of the hardest-rocking numbers of the night. The mid-tempo Rooster was dedicated to The Roots, who played a show on a different House of Blues stage earlier in the evening.

Thank You, a funk song with devout gospel lyrics, was dedicated to Al Green. Burbridge introduced the band by explaining that the group had seen Green preach in Memphis a few days before and had been deeply inspired. After the song, Henson and Slocum departed, and Burbridge spoke again.

"We're gonna play a song by Jimi Hendrix… and AC/DC… and Led Zeppelin," he said. The remaining power trio launched into the group's big show-stopper: a long version of Power of Soul (with Burbridge on vocals) including a Back in Black jam and a quick tease of The Ocean. Kimbrell took a gigantic solo, splatter-painting the song with an Octavia pedal and shredding at top speed, like a cross between Hendrix and Jimmy Herring. It was a transcendent, mind-melting experience. With any luck, it will be preserved on the album for a larger audience.

Burbridge promised a mini-extra set for audience members who didn't have plans early Saturday morning, explaining that the band wanted to play as many songs as they could for the record. The three-song encore consisted of the instrumental Butter Biscuit, a rarely-played song appropriately called Hard to Find, and closed with a new song, Silverback.

The setlist resembled the one from their last Chicago House of Blues gig at the end of May but the Peacemaker's performance was a full step better than that one. The band is still evolving, and time on the road has tightened their sound. Kimbrell in particular seemed stronger and freer while improvising. He took a couple of remarkable solos in the latter part of the show. Taking a chance and doing a short acoustic set may be the beginning of greater contributions from Henson. With more time and touring, the group could start to elevate bigger parts of its shows to match the highlights of this one.

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