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Published: 2016/08/13
by Larson Sutton

Butch Trucks and the Freight Train Band at the Narrows Center

Butch Trucks and the Freight Train Band, Narrows Center for the Arts, Fall River, MA- 8/6

The Freight Train picked up a couple of new passengers, as two of its regular riders couldn’t make the trip, with guitarists Ben Sparaco and Chris Vitarello subbing in for Damon Fowler, recovering from minor surgery, and Vaylor Trucks, whose full-time job kept him home. It’s a young unit to begin with, drummer Butch Trucks and keyboardist Bruce Katz being the senior members, and the infusion of even more youth on this visit to the historic New England mill town venue and its mostly senior audience cranked out a steaming set of classics on a summer Saturday night.

After a late soundcheck, (the band arriving belated following a marathon drive from the previous evening’s blues fest in Delaware), Trucks and his septet had a somewhat impatient crowd to win back. The anxious were lined up early in the narrow and airless staircases for a chance to get up close and personal in the general admission music hall. It took only the opening notes of the chugging Allman Brothers Band instrumental “Hot ‘Lanta,” to turn the sweat to satisfaction, as Sparaco, all of 18 years-old, delivered a building and blistering solo reminiscent of modern-day Brother Derek Trucks. Another Brothers’ standard, “Trouble No More,” came next, with bassist Berry Oakley belting out the vocal and jump-starting the seated crowd.

Two surprises followed, with the group working its way through the twisting fusion of Jeff Beck’s “Freeway Jam,” before Trucks announced in self-deprecation that he’d be hollerin’ through the next number, a rollicking run at Bob Dylan’s “Highway 61.” Shifting back to the Allman catalog, Heather Gillis took the mic for “Dreams,” and a Katz solo that referenced Miles Davis as it set up statements from the triple-threat guitars of Gillis, Vitarello, and Sparaco. A snappy “Statesboro Blues,” came with a somewhat eerie epilogue; Trucks mentioning Gregg Allman’s recent hospital stay, saying he hoped for the best but feared the worst.

A Katz original, the jazz-inflected “Out from the Center” led into the Dave Mason burner, “Only You Know and I Know,” with Oakley again singing lead. A mix of vintage Brothers tunes and a pair of like-minded additions- a bouncy take on The Band’s “Ophelia” and Eddie Harris’ soul shouter “Compared to What,” intersected extended jamming on “Jessica” and “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” the former featuring Katz’s brilliance and the latter showcasing a terrific Gillis solo, a Vitarello dip into “Les Brers,” and a Trucks showdown with percussionist Garrett Dawson. All that remained was the conquering encore of “Whipping Post,” its bassline thunder turned loose by the son of the original Allman bassist. Gillis once again handled the vocal, slightly shifting Gregg’s phrasing to better suit her voice, but leaving plenty of space for the singing guitars.

What started with a simmer left with a boil, Butch Trucks and his Freight Train Band garnering several standing ovations as Trucks thanked the crowd and the volunteer staff for a wonderful evening. It may have been hot. It may have been a band plugging some holes on the run. Most certainly, it was performance of determination, energy, and power.

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