October 26th Winston’s, Ocean Beach, Ca.
I had been getting very pumped up to see Bill Kreutzmann’s new band since they announced the tour dates. Bill has been putting out plenty of info on facebook with interviews, reviews videos and such. Much has been made about how well Robert Hunter and Papa Mali wrote these new songs together. I have also gotten to listen to a little bit on archive.org. I was excited to see a real live member of the Grateful Dead play a very small venue (a couple of hundred people at most) that has been hosting a grateful dead night with the electric waste band for something like twenty years. I had just seen the opening band Moon Alice at The Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival and was ready for another killer set from them. Ann Atomic Moon Alice couldn’t make it that night, which left a void, but we were still treated to some great jams from, Molo, McNamee, Sears and Sless
During the break, we positioned ourselves front and center low stage, expecting a squishy general admission crowd. Then out rolls Billy K with Papa Mali, legendary bassist George Porter Jr. of the Meters and Multi instrumentalist Matt Hubbard, who among other things just did some Christmas recordings with Willie Nelson and Jessica Simpson.
The set went something like this…
Out of a cool space jam, flowed the familiar opening notes to a very well played Birdsong followed by a rocking version of the New Orleans standard Hey Pocky Way. Next came a ripping Sue from Bogalusa (a new song with kind of an upbeat Elvis Costello vibe) into an always danceable Bertha, then a spooky Death Don’t Have No Mercy.
The Spooky swamp sound continued into an instrumental Bottle Up where Bill gave us a nice solo at the end. A heartfelt Wharf Rat brought a warm glow over the crowd. Then back to the spooky voodoo stuff with an instrumental jam Mr. Okra which led into an amazing Chingo which is a trippy new Hunter song that opens with Papa’s voice distorted, Bill playing on a series of cow bells and Matt playing a crazy wooden flute. That tune was so much fun. 7 Walkers was next. This song is so well crafted, it felt like I have always known it. It was dripping with imagery. Listening to it was like watching a favorite old movie. I can’t say enough good things about it. Then they took us to church with Lay My Burdon Down, a Dixieland gospel number that made me want to start a parade. George took the vocals next on a funky Sugaree that was reminiscent of the stylings of the late great Merl Saunders. King Cotton Blues was next (Willie sings on the studio version). They closed with a raucous Love Light that had the place really jumping, with lots of drum and bass interplay.
These guys played it to the very end. Eight minutes to get everyone out by 2am. Bill was even helping the bouncers clear the room so no one would get in trouble. We managed to snap a quick photo with Bill before he tossed us out. This band rocked this show. It was full of rich powerful sound and emotion from under the swamp to beyond the stars. Matt Hubbard switching from keys to harmonica to trombone (which really gave the music a 3D effect) to back up vocals to flute was a sight to be heard.
October 28th, The Coach House, San Juan Capistrano, Ca.
I was stoked to get another chance to see these guys. The Coach House is bigger venue in a smaller town. They set it up with long thin tables coming out 90 degrees from the stage for dinner service. It was a real sit down show. Polite dancers danced around the perimeter.
Groove Session opened the show. They are a very cool local funky jam band. 7 walkers started with a trippy space jam again that led into Sue from Bogalusa then He’s Gone. A nice Just Like Tom Thumb Blues followed by 7 walkers. Then they brought on the funk with the new Hunter tune Evangeline, Sugaree and Going Down The Road Felling Bad. Next a slow New Orleans Crawl filled with lots of sweet trombone then Junko Partner let Matt really show off his piano skills. The following Friend of the Devil was a real crowd pleaser. I love the way these guys play Dead tunes. They give each song the new, but somehow familiar 7 walkers sound. A jamming Mr. Okra led into that wild song Chingo! After King Cotton it seemed like they were running out of time so they blasted us with another Love Light that ended with a couple of notes from Birdsong.
This is a real band. This is a real good band. While other ageing rockers my go out on the road trying to recreate a sound or a feeling from the past, 7 Walkers are creating something fresh and new. They are old school New Orleans roots rock with that little psychedelic twist that takes it just a little further then we’ve gone before. I expect to hear a lot more great stuff from this band soon. Go see em. You’ll like em.