The Warren Haynes Band
Higher Ground Ballroom
South Burlington, Vermont
September 13, 2011
Warren Haynes' Man in Motion
(Stax, 2011) project was originally conceived as a means of rediscovering the man's influences in R&B and soul music. It's also providing him some refreshing respite from his longstanding commitments to Gov't Mule
and Allman Brothers Band
. In addition, based on the appearance at Higher Ground on September 13, the guitarist/singer/composer is attracting listeners who might not have otherwise been following his other eclectic activities.
But that's no doubt because Haynes is taking the most conventional method possible to his current work. The first set in South Burlington Vermont excelled due to exactly that approach, as excerpts from the album, such as the title tune and "The River's Gonna Rise." had a resounding depth and punch at which the original recordings only hinted.
Accordingly, music lovers and fans of the man less than enthralled with the studio recording had to be pleased, though less so as the evening went on. Granted, Haynes has put together a reliable band, but they have nowhere the imagination he does (except perhaps drummer Terence Higgins), so the extent of the instrumental interaction, with saxophonist Ron Holloway or keyboardist Nigel Hall, was generally relegated to conformist call- and-response. Fortunately, such intervals were quick during the early going.
And it was further gratifying to continue hearing the melodious approach Haynes has been taking to his guitar playing: emphasizing the melodic aspect of his playing through the use of big, hollow-bodied Gibson instruments, he avoids a tendency to overwrought shtick that has afflicted his work with Mule and ABB the last few years. Accordingly, solos like the one he played on "Sick of My Shadow," had a sweet tuneful air that contrasted vividly with the angst-ridden lyrics and Warren's usual guttural vocals.
As the second set progressed, however, the guitar tone became louder and thicker, in direct proportion to how loose the playing became. It didn't start that way, as bassist Mike Gordon appeared onstage after intermission: these versions of "That's What Love Will Make You Do" and Little Feat
's "On the Way Down" were compact and to the point, even as the informal atmosphere allowed the Phishman to open up rhythmic possibilities aplenty.
After Ron Johnson returned to the stage, however, and more cover material emerged, the previous focus of the eveningthe premise at the heart of Man in Motion
increasingly eluded The Warren Haynes Band. Granted Haynes' longstanding affection for Jimi Hendrix
, it'd make more sense to cover, perhaps, Booker T & the MG's
's "Green Onions" rather than "Spanish Castle Magic" the arrangement of which, in a foreshadowing of things to come in the second set, didn't sound entirely complete.
Certainly it might seem condescending at best, or pedantic at worst, for Haynes to explore the audience-enlightening aspects of his renewed focus on his roots. But there was an audience member wearing a Stax Records logo t-shirt, so there is an awareness of the history of the style. Thus, the potential to move beyond the cover of William Bell's "Every Day Is A Holiday" is there. Heartfelt as it was, this version of Otis Redding
's "I've Been Loving You Too Long" was a bit too obvious for a man of Haynes' subtle attention to detail.
More to the point, given Haynes' customary insight and awareness of continuity in his other projects, including Phil Lesh
& Friends and The Grateful Dead
, it wouldn't be out of place to hear a mini-acoustic set with some of his standard repertoire to be followed with more authentic covers in collaboration with his band. As it was, the musicianship became less grounded as the show progressed. Haynes seemed to be gravitating more toward his usual tendency for multiple segues and even though, by the time of "Fire in the Kitchen," he seemed to be enjoying himself in a most relaxed manner, the drama was lacking in the progressively complicated (as opposed to truly complex) jamming amongst the band.
The same can't be said of the ringing rendition of "Soulshine," commenced after a call for an encore from a crowd that continued to pack the Vermont venue's Ballroom throughout the three hour-plus and two sets. Despite the rousing reception to the tune, Hall's extended piano intro made the appearance of its author's signature song somewhat anticlimacticthat is if, during the latter portion of the tune, Haynes wasn't seen throwing kisses to his audience, between guitar chords, the hand raised in a peace sign.
Moments later, The Warren Haynes Band's performance at Higher Ground ended, in sum an accurately representation of the Man in Motion
recording its supports, where moments of unmitigated passion reside next to rote instrumental interludes where the musicians are clearly doing what they enjoy, though they're not deeply moved (or moving) in doing it.