Hot Tuna, Beacon Theater, New York, NY- 11/23
Photo by Bill Kelly
With over 40 years of history behind them, Hot Tuna has created many great traditions for themselves and their fans. For the east coast fan base, their annual shows at the Beacon Theater have become hallowed affairs. With its primetime Upper West Side locale, great sound, immaculate décor and years of history, it’s hard for any band, not to mention one as seasoned as Hot Tuna, to not play an inspired show at this one-of-a-kind theater.
Before the music began, a man came to the stage and announced simply, “Jack Casady!” Casady walked out onstage accompanied by nothing other than his bass guitar and proceeded to throw down a funky solo bass groove for at least a solid minute and a half before being joined by his bandmates. There was no doubt that Casady was noticeably excited to be on that stage and his fellow players reciprocated his energy. They went in to their classic “I Can See The Light” and nailed every note to their audience’s enthusiasm. Jorma Kaukonen’s voice and guitar playing was splendid, giving fans wonderful deliveries of his timeless classics, and as good as the opening song was, Jorma seemed to sound better and better on each tune. He came out nice and warm, then kept getting hotter.
The band brought out the masterful Larry Campbell for the second song “Ode To Billy Jean” and to my delight he remained onstage for the rest of the show lending his expert musical chops to guitar, fiddle and pedal steel throughout the night, sounding like he’d been a full-on member of this band for years. His chemistry with the band was fantastic, making a great show even better. Campbell’s wife Teresa Williams also joined the band for a number of songs on vocals, closing out the first set with a great rendition of Hot Tuna’s old pals, the Grateful Dead’s classic “Sugaree,” which was preceded by a down and dirty “Bowlegged Woman” fueled by Jack’s thumping bass lines and Jorma’s fiery psychedelic Les Paul wizardry. Drummer Skoota Warner’s backbeat was pure groove, the perfect accompaniment to Casady’s beefy bass tone. In a night full of highlights, the “Bowlegged>Sugaree” set closer were way up there on my list. However things got even better when Tuna fulfilled the promise that they’d made earlier in the day of some classic Jefferson Airplane tunes, brandishing out their old classic “Want Somebody To Love” featuring Teresa Williams on lead vocals, splendidly channeling Grace Slick’s timeless croons and wails. Jorma and Jack seemed quite enthused with Teresa’s delivery of it, judging by the smile on Kaukonen’s face and the thunder of Casady’s bass rig.
Hot Tuna closed out their Beacon performance, which ended not too shy of the midnight curfew, with their hero Rev. Gary Davis’ classic “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” which they’ve jammed on so heavily over the years that it’s definitely taken on a life its own in the hands of this band, and with Larry Campbell chiming in with them, it was that much better. No doubt about it, after 50 years of playing together Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady still have the fire in their hearts for the music they love and have found fellow musicians that share those sentiments and their level of skill. I touched on a few of the set’s highlights but truth is there wasn’t a bad song to be had. The Beacon Theater knows how to bring it out of the artists who grace its stage, and this band once again, rose to the occasion.