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Published: 2012/01/06
by Sam Robertson

7 Walkers, Sullivan Hall, New York, NY – 12/30

Photo by Rob Chapman

While the living members of the Grateful Dead have spent the past couple years exploring their own projects, drummer Bill Kreutzmann has stayed extremely busy with his new band 7 Walkers. Kreutzmann brought his band’s New Orleans-influenced voodoo to New York’s Sullivan Hall on December 30th, as 7 Walkers performed both an early and late show (with separate admission) over a long night of music. However the early show was more than just an appetizer. Clocking in at over two hours with a mix of Grateful Dead classics and new material written by Robert Hunter, the band gave the early crowd their money’s worth. It was a wonder to watch Kreutzmann, 65 years old, still so energetically thrilled to have the opportunity to play music all night.

7 Walkers finds Kreutzmann teamed up with guitarist/vocalist Papa Mali, keyboardist Matt Hubbard and bassist George Porter Jr. Unfortunately Porter had New Year’s plans with the Funky Meters and couldn’t make the show. But Kirk Joseph from Dirty Dozen Brass Band joined and played the song’s basslines on his sousaphone. During “Death Don’t Have No Mercy” keyboardist Matt Hubbard traded his keyboard for a trombone, and the pair’s brassy swing breathed new life into the blues classic. Hubbard again picked up the trombone for the new Robert Hunter and Papa Mali collaboration, “New Orleans Crawl,” which is the kind of sleazy barroom rocker that thrives on a brassy low end. But on more exploratory material such as “Wharf Rat” the sousaphone sounded a bit out of place. Though the band is undoubtedly at their strongest with Porter Jr. manning the low end, Joseph proved to be a more than adequate substitute and nearly filled Porter’s big shoes.

For a band so deeply influenced by groove-heavy New Orleans funk and jazz, 7 Walkers are not afraid to dip into weird, psychedelic territory. “Wharf Rat” and 7 Walkers original “Bottle Up And Go” found Papa Mali floating liquefied guitar lines over Kreutzmann’s manic drumming. In Papa Mali, Kreutzmann has found a kindred spirit: a musician equally capable of drifting between deep sonic weirdness and groove-based blues. A man of many talents, Papa Mali also delivered heartfelt, tender vocals on “Wharf Rat” and new Hunter/Papa Mali original “Evangeline.”

Though Papa Mali’s voice is best-suited to ballads, when it came to Grateful Dead songs the band leaned more towards fast-tempo rockers that got the crowd dancing. “Big Railroad Blues” a song that has been tragically ignored by most post-Jerry projects, made a welcome appearance and the band revved things up to a reckless tempo as Papa Mali and Matt Hubbard traded frantic old school rock and roll licks. The band was similarly energetic on “Deal,” which found Papa Mali tearing things up with some bluesy slide work, while “Turn On Your Lovelight” found the band moving from bouncy soul into an exploratory, acid-drenched jam with swirling guitar and organ that felt like vintage 1960’s Grateful Dead.

Though the band had played over two hours, which was quite the lengthy set as far as early shows go, Kreutzmann, ever the gracious performer, led the band back out for an encore of “Bertha.” After such a long, high energy set in the suffocating heat of the tiny Sullivan Hall, the crowd and the band were ready to call it a night. But then there was Billy, 65 years young and nothing but smiles, pushing his band and the crowd to keep the fun going all night.

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