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Warren Haynes Band: Denver, CO, October 31, 2011

Geoff Anderson By

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Warren Haynes Band
Ogden Theater
Denver, CO
October 31, 2011

At this point in his career, Warren Haynes can to do whatever he wants—at least musically, anyway. And, apparently, Haynes felt like being James Brown for an evening. And so it was that the Warren Haynes Band played nearly an hour-and-a-half of James Brown's funk and soul during its second set on Halloween at a packed and sweaty Ogden Theatre in Denver. For this show, Haynes billed himself as The Godfather of Soulshine.

This was group's third show in Denver this year, and Haynes isn't one to play the same old thing all the time. The fact the calendar said October 31 seemed to call for something special, too. On top of all that, the whole concept of the Warren Haynes Band has been to get down with a more soulful and funky sound than any of Haynes' other bands which include Gov't Mule, the Allman Brothers Band and The Dead. So if R&B and soul are the goal, why not go all in and pay an extended tribute to the Godfather of Soul himself?

In its roughly six months of existence as a touring band, the Warren Haynes Band has been concentrating on the music of its CD from earlier this year, Man in Motion (Staax, 2011), which consists mainly of Haynes' original compositions, but which channels that R&B and soul feel from yesteryear. In concert, the band has been throwing in some funk covers such as "What is Hip?" and "Spanish Moon," so moving directly into James Brown territory is a very small step. The biggest problem, however, was the fact that the Warren Haynes Band only had one horn, in saxophonist Ron Holloway. With Brown's music unequivocally calling for an entire horn section, Haynes recruited trumpeter Rashawn Ross and trombonist Big Sam for this date. Ross may be best-known for spending some time with the Dave Matthews Band, but he's also played with funksters Soulive and Lettuce. Big Sam Williams has his own Funky Nation, a New Orleans based jam-funk band, and he knows a little something about playing funk, as well as putting on a show.

The big question before the show was just how tight a pickup horn section could be. After all, horn parts tighter than a wood tick's hind end were a hallmark of Brown's bands. Legend has it that Brown, well-known as an autocratic leader, would fine his band members for missing any of their assigned parts. That and playing together for extended periods turned his bands into a single throbbing, syncopated unit.

So how did the Warren Haynes Band's horn section stand up to this inevitable comparison? Overall, pretty well. The horn parts on better-known Brown tunes such as "Cold Sweat," "I Feel Good" and "Papa's Got a Brand New Bag" sounded like Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley were back together again—most likely because the three horn players in Haynes' band, with their obvious interest and enthusiasm for this type of music, probably have had those horn parts burned into their DNA since they were youngsters. On some of the lesser-known tunes like "Papa Don't Take No Mess" and "I Got a Bag of My Own," things got a little looser, but remained serviceable.

It takes more than some hot horns to pull off James Brown, however; vocals come to mind, as it's pretty hard to recreate the kind of vocal pyrotechnics Brown launched on a regular basis during his prime. Haynes' vocals are more suited to growling some blues and/or lamenting another woman who did him wrong. Nevertheless, he belted some soul of his own, minus the anguished screeches and wails Brown used as punctuation—although he did throw in "hit me," now and again. Haynes, however, isn't the only vocalist in the Warren Haynes Band; Alecia Chakour, usually on backing vocals, got a few turns out front including "Think" (not Aretha Franklin's, but a different song with the same name that was a hit for Brown in 1960).

Keyboardist, Nigel Hall was the one who came closest to putting Brown back onstage, with a similar vocal style and even going so far as to come out from behind his keyboards during "Please, Please, Please," dropping some splits onto the stage and getting wrapped in a Brown-esque cape by one of the roadies. Good campy fun. Hall's black and white hounds tooth suit didn't hurt either. Meanwhile, Haynes, being Haynes, put his own stamp on the Brown sound, his guitar solo in the midst of "It's a Man's, Man's, Man's World" very nearly worth the price of admission.

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