North Mississippi Allstars / Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, Cannery Ballroom, Nashville, TN- 2/11
The storm that never came slowed the grand entrance to the Cannery Ballroom. However, those in attendance were pleasantly surprised by the groove that Grace Potter and the Nocturnals served up.
The recent Jambands.com New Groove of the Month delivers the goods. Grace’s seductive voice and Scott Tournet’s impressive guitar engage overtop the backbone created by bassist Bryan Dondero and the Levon Helm like tempos of drummer Matthew Burr.
As Grace drifted on to the stage singing an a cappella version of “Nothing But the Water” the crowd began to thicken, and by the time she sat at the helm of her Hammond B-3 the whole building began to creek from the grooving masses. The Nocturnals groove is infectious, and about three songs into their set they were in perfect stride. Tournet provided swampy blues licks and tasteful slide on songs like “Go Down Low” and the ragtime vibe of “Gumbo Moon”. Deviating from the setlist, Grace provided comic relief with the colorful lyrics of “Piss on your sleeve is worth the relief” and showed her multi-instrumental talents by alternating from her Hammond to acoustic guitar.
With a short opening set Grace Potter and the Nocturnals had won over the Nashville crowd, and as they left the stage with a reprise of the a cappella “Nothing But the Water” it became obvious that the bar had been set and the Allstars would have to rise to the occasion.
Saturday nights are always a good time for a North Mississippi Allstars show, as they bow the line between a hell raising party and a Sunday morning church service. Right out of the gates the hill boogie ran rampant with a huge “Shake’em on Down” that answered the call of the Nocturnals fabulous set. Luther wailed on his Les Paul as Chew began to drop bombs from the opposite side of the stage. As one of the most defined rhythm sections touring Cody and Chew had no problems locking in the groove, and giving Luther room to air out his guitar lead. Mixing the old with the new “Bang, Bang LuLu” from Electric Blue Watermelon found the energy continuing to build, and seemed to be the most solidified newer song. “Going Down South” segued out of “Run On” and had the whole crowd captivated by the boogie.
The North Mississippi Allstars affection for R.L. Burnside has always provided some of their best work. As with Fred McDowell and Junior Kimbrough material they seem to covet these songs recreating them with youthful vibrancy and unadulterated energy. The “Po Black Maddie>Skinny Woman> Po Black Maddie” was a shinning example of that appreciation and regeneration. Cody sat amidst a sea of drums and keyboards pounding the life out of his kit, yet his aggression never faltered the precise backbone that he and Chris Chew fashioned. While Luther’s delivery came with such conviction, he must have evoked the spirit of R.L. himself.
Since they were serving up hot biscuits they found it fitting to deliver an “All Night Long> Love Light> All Night Long” that would send the crowd into frenzy. Luther led the charge and had some blistering moments throughout the progression of the sandwich of songs. However not to be outdone Chris Chew took the reigns during “Love Light” and constructed a heavy bass line that rattled the rafters. Budweiser’s flowing, and guitars screaming this was the Allstars in their element. “T is for Texas” followed with adapted lyrics to fit the nights venue in Tennessee, and then Cody stepped up for an amped up version “Psychedelic Sex Machine.” Often times Cody’s staggering washboard solos overshadow the fact that Luther provides a concrete beat behind the kit.
Then as the night grew late, the church in Chew began to take over. Welcoming the Sunday morning coming down that was sure to follow “Going Home Part 2” began with a very cleansing tone. The Luther written instrumental feels similar into tempo and tone to that of an Allman Brothers jam, a little more subtle and soothing than most of the Allstars catalog. Then the angelic voice of Grace Potter joined in the mix. Jumping in on “You Got to Move” and an absolutely breathe taking “Amazing Grace> Freedom Highway” would have been enough to make the night complete. The perfect marriage of soulful virtuous vocals and masterful instrumentation wasn’t enough.
Almost no Allstars show would be complete without a massive “Snake Drive.” The R. L. Burnside tune’s rambling bass line moved along in locomotive fashion as Luther shredded his guitar to pieces to end the show. Not willing to leave without an encore the crowd provoked the band to rejoin them, and that they did with some heavy hill country boogie. The Otha Turner “Shimmy She Wobble” started things up again and Luther picked up right where he left off. His fuzzy distorted tone and aggressive lead into the song built tension with every bent note and slide of the neck; then without hesitation it exploded into the traditional “Station Blues.”
No one will ever capture the heart of the North Hill Country blues sound, like the masters. Many of these great musicians of American history have passed on, but thanks to the Allstars appreciation and carrying of the torch the blues will live on. Lucky for us that these wonderful songs are also where the Allstars sound the best. You can dress up the blues and try to recreate a new voice but it will always lead back to the hill country.