Tedeschi Trucks Band / Grace Potter and the Nocturnals / JJ Grey and Mofro: Denver, June 15, 2013
Red Rocks Amphitheater
June 15, 2013
When you walk into the venue and the stage is set up with three Hammond B-3 organs, each with its own Leslie speaker, you know you're in for something earthy and gritty. And what better place for earthiness and grittiness than Red Rocks Amphitheater, carved out of rock formations that are between 300 million and 1.7 billion years old? Throw in perfect June weather and three bands that mix various amounts of blues, rock, soul, funk and jazz and it was an evening for the ages, or at least six hours.
JJ Grey and Mofro
JJ Grey had never been to Red Rocks before, and like pretty much every other first- timer, he was awe-struck and gushed over the scenery. He pulled himself together enough to put on an hour-long blues set with a six-piece backing band. He had drums, bass, keyboards (the B-3, ya know), guitar, trumpet and sax. Grey sang and played guitar on about half the tunes. He started with a new, somewhat topical song, "99 Shades of Crazy," referencing the popular, soft-core porn books aimed at suburban moms.
Grey came on stage with gray slacks and a navy polo shirt. Together with his short- cropped, thinning gray hair, he appeared fully qualified to man the counter at an auto parts store. But he's a blues man. He growled through a set of originals in front of his crack blues band with solos throughout the set by most members.
With three groups on the bill, all of a jammish persuasion, some crosspollination seemed inevitable. Sure enough, during "Ho Cake," a Grey classic going back to his first album, Kofi Burbridge of the Tedeschi Trucks Band joined Mofro on stage. Burbridge is normally the TTB's keyboard man, but he showed up with his flute, borrowing the trumpeter's mic and throwing down an impromptu solo.
Grace Potter and the Nocturnals
Potter's studio output has grown increasing commercial over the past few years. Her latest album, The Lion, The Beast, The Beat (Hollywood Records, 2012), continues the trend. Many of the songs are constructed around sticky, sugary pop hooks. Her set Saturday night was, however, different. Is a comparison to Eric Clapton warranted?
Back in the 1970s, Clapton began spending a lot of time in the Caribbean. Possibly as a result of that, or possibly as a result of kicking heroin around that time, studio albums like 461 Ocean Boulevard (RSO, 1974) and There's One in Every Crowd (Polydor, 1975) began to take on a laidback, sometimes reggae-inflected flavor. Fans from his blues guitar hero days were frustrated and depressed. However, he continued his blues obsession in concert throughout the era, with EC Was Here (Polydor, 1975) a small document of this period. A better examination appears on Crossroads 2: Live in the Seventies (Polydor 1996), a four-CD set chronicling the heavy blues output during his concerts from that period.
Potter's set Saturday night was a somewhat similar contrast to her recent studio work. Her early material was shot through with the blues, subtle funk and more than a little jam band influence. At Red Rocks, the jam band influence rose to the forefront. That sound was evident right out of the box. The band rearranged "Stop the Bus," from This is Somewhere (Hollywood Records, 2007)an older album for Potter to include a rave-up jam in the middle, which was deftly designed to rev up the audience. "Some Kind of Ride" was from an even earlier album, Nothing But the Water (Ragged Company Records, 2006), back when denim and flannel weren't just her wardrobe, they were a lifestyle. "Never Go Back" was a track from her latest disc but, for the most part, that one eschewed the pop-hook formula.
"Devil's Train" is where things turned decidedly non-pop. On this one, the drummer strapped on a single drum and walked down front. All the rest of the band members donned acoustic guitars (even the bassist) and gave a workout to this old Roy Acuff classic. Listen for this one on the soundtrack to the movie The Lone Ranger: Wanted. Definitely not a slick pop tune.
While on the Devil theme, and to gain more jam band cred at the same time, the band then went into "Friend of the Devil." The deepest jam flavor came out toward the end of the show. The "Nothing But The Water Suite" is another tune from 2006. The first part of the studio version has Potter delivering a cappella, gospel-infused vocals, followed by a rock-n-roll rave for the second part. In performance, Potter was alone on the stage for part one, but this time she was wearing her Flying V guitar and, instead of a cappella vocals, accompanied herself with it. And not any old guitar licks. She played slide with a nasty, distorted sound. These licks could have come off a Chess Records side from the 1950s.