Hot Tuna Lebanon Opera House Lebanon, New Hampshire June 17, 2014
Bassist Jack Casady almost stole the show during his seventh (8th?) appearance in New Hampshire with long-time friend and musical compadre guitarist Jorma Kaukonen. And that's not to disparage the latter, whose delicate precise picking (except for a few moments early on) mirrored Casady's own dexterity during the course of their ninety minutes on the New Hampshire stage.
But Kaukonen's compliment to the man to his right this night"He never ceases to amaze me"(borderline mawkish reaction from the audience aside) may have led to the deference that allowed Casady the extra time to inhabit the spotlight on "Good Shepherd" and take the time to strum and bar chords on his big bass. The former Jefferson Airplane bassist isn't usually inclined to take that much time for himself, preferred instead to contour the understated lines he plays to the intricacy Kaukonen creates on numbers like "Hesitation Blues."
But those intervals the guitarist strummed chord progressions, while Casady explored rhythm and melody in his own inimitable style, might've been the most memorable segments of the performance, comprised as it was by a setlist that, apart from "Things That Might've Been," the maudlin tune from that most recent studio album Steady As She Goes (Red House Records, 2011) might well constitute "Hot Tuna's Greatest Hits."
Nevertheless, even given the burnished familiarity of so many of the tunes the night contained its share of surprises, not the least of which was, in contrast to recent years, the absence of brilliant multi-instrumentalist Barry Mitterhof. And while that was disappointing to a certain extent, it was nevertheless a special pleasure to watch just Casady and Kaukonen perform as a twosome, if for no other reason that it illustrates, in microcosm, how difficult it is for musicians to play well with other musicians. Yet as on "Let Us Get Together Right Down Here," this pair made such fluid interaction look easy in the way each so subtly anticipated the other in complement or counterpoint.
As is the case with any expertly designed setlist, the song titles don't tell the entire tale. To note the juxtaposition of the exalting "Water Song" next to "Genesis," Tom Hobson's stellar contribution off Kaukonen's initial solo album Quah, (Grunt/RCA, 1974) won't open eyes as wide as ears during the moments of its live execution. And the inclusion of "New Song (For the Morning)" and "Bar Room Crystal Ball," two of Kaukonen's most personal tunes, lent weight to the cumulative effect of the duo's hushed acoustic playing as much as the more lighthearted "Barbeque King" and "Keep On Truckin.'"
Concluding the evening on a rollicking note, with the blues of "Come Back Baby" and "I Know You Rider," was thus even more appropriate as the material directly reflected the deeply empathetic, durable and affectionate relationship of the two musicians playing. However many times Hot Tuna plays this venue (and the intro was not quite clear), they'll be sure to receive the same respectful but loose response because that, in turn, is right in line with how Jack Casady and Jorma Kaukonen view their repertoire and their collaboration.