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Published: 2012/12/27
by Justin Jacobs

Jorma Kaukonen, Zappa, Tel Aviv – 12/15

To most bands that touch down in the Middle East, shows in Israel are a sadly short detour from European tours: fly into Ben Gurion airport, set up in Tel Aviv, explore some nightlife and fly back out. But for Jorma Kaukonen, legendary guitarist and founding member of Jefferson Airplane and Hot Tuna, the trip wasn’t just to fill seats. He wanted to explore.

Along with his son Zach, Kaukonen spent the better part of a week in the country, with shows in Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and the tiny ‘green village,’ Amirim. Kaukonen blogged about his favorite spots (take his suggestion: Abu Hassan is the best hummus joint in the country) and jammed next to the sea in Jaffa.

By the time he and mandolinist Barry Mitterhoff took the stage at Zappa club in north Tel Aviv on Saturday, his attitude was that of an old friend, not a foreign visitor. Playing for a comfortably full crowd at the sit-down club, Kaukonen was all smiles and anecdotes.

The playing, for better or worse, followed suit. There was little urgency in Kaukonen’s acoustic finger-picking, but rather a laid back, breezy style. At times, his playing fit his blues covers perfectly; at others, the songs needed more of a kick.

“This is from the first Hot Tuna record, about 600 years ago. None of you look so old to know it, so I wanted to tell you the important dates,” Kaukonen joked before slowly picking his way into “Hesitation Blues.”

That necessary energy boost came mid-set, with cuts like the hopping “Vicksburg Stomp,” and the Jefferson Airplane cut “Good Shepherd.”

“Someone commented to me about playing a song about Jesus in Jerusalem, in Israel. But, well, I understand that Jesus was a Jew,” he laughed, jumping right into the gospel track “Light of this World.”

Elsewhere, Kaukonen just wanted to have fun. “Barbecue King” was light and easy, and it clicked well.

“The ukulele is the most simple and innocent instrument, and we’re about to use it for the most obscene songs of the night,” he laughed when Mitterhoff switched instruments for a late-set collection of once-taboo blues classics.

Musically, Kaukonen and Mitterhoff danced around each other, but struggled to lock in and move together in rhythm. The show felt off-the-cuff and informal enough that the light mood worked for the relaxed, end-of-weekend crowd. But it was hard not to hope for more of a spark.

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