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Crossroads: Bromberg and Kaukonen at the Egg.

Photo: Joe Putrock

You Can Pick Your Friends

By Glenn Weiser

Jorma Kaukonen and David Bromberg

The Egg, Jan. 24

Rev. Gary Davis, the blind guitarist and street singer who influenced a generation of 1960s folk musicians, was remembered Sunday night at the Egg by two of his former pupils, instrumental ace David Bromberg and former Jefferson

Airplane lead guitarist and Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Jorma Kaukonen, who played mostly classic folk and blues tunes, separately and together. For the most part, it was everything a roots music fan could have wanted: country-blues fingerpicking, slide guitar, tasty acoustic lead work, stellar mandolin supplied by Kaukonen’s sideman, bluegrasser Barry Mitterhoff, and many of the reverend’s signature songs.

Devotees of vocal art would have been disappointed, though—neither Bromberg, whom The New York Times branded as “a wretched vocalist” in the early 1970s, nor Kaukonen can sing like their iron-throated mentor. Although both stay on key, Bromberg’s voice is quite nasal, and Kaukonen simply has no pep in his pipes. The show sold out anyway, as plenty of listeners will overlook a lackluster larynx or two if the picking promises to be good enough.

Unfortunately, when Bromberg began his solo segment with his “I Like to Sleep Late in the Morning,” even his fabled fretwork fell short. Fancy fingerpicking such as he was attempting can be wickedly difficult to execute cleanly; he played sloppily, repeatedly missing notes in his songs until he switched to slide and nailed Robert Johnson’s Delta blues anthem, “Come On in My Kitchen.”

When Bromberg was joined by Kaukonen and Mitterhoff, though, the night took wing. Bromberg backed Kaukonen’s impeccable finger-picking with bodacious acoustic lead work and more slide blues standards including Jelly Roll Morton’s “Don’t You Leave Me Here,” Rev. Gary Davis’ “Hesitation Blues,” and the Mississippi Sheiks’ “Sitting On Top of the World” as Mitterhoff added lazy fills, and then, the first of many superb solos that evening.

Mitterhoff and Kaukonen led off the second set. Kaukonen sparkled on Rev. Davis’ bouncy gospel number, “I Will Feel Better Someday,” and again on “Embryonic Journey,” his trippy solo-acoustic instrumental from the Airplane’s landmark 1967 album, Surrealistic Pillow. On the Sippy Wallace tune, “I Know You Rider,” the pair started the song as a slow shuffle, and then switched to a double-time even-eighth feel, allowing Mitterhoff to uncork his bluegrass chops. With Bromberg again on stage, other highlights were the Grateful Dead’s “Operator,” Leroy Carr’s “How Long Blues,” and Leiber and Stoller’s “Kansas City.”

For an encore, the trio picked the grimmest downer in the entire folk catalogue—Davis’ somber reminder of mortality, “Death Don’t Have No Mercy.” The message was incontestable, but was that any way to end the show?

Get Up Offa That Thing

Dan Zanes

The Egg, Jan. 23

On Saturday, Dan Zanes returned to the Egg (though not yet an annual staple, he and his band have performed several times in the last few years), kicking off a new tour before a surprisingly sedate crowd. And “sedate” is not an adjective often applied to a theater full of less-than-10-year-olds. (Or maybe ever, before now.)

Given the average age, it’s highly likely that for many attendees Saturday’s show was their first concert. So, of course, I don’t blame the kids for whatever uncertainty they may have had, vis a vis concert decorum. And, as those more experienced Albany clubgoers know, ours is not a dance-prone hometown crowd. So, a little shyness is to be expected. It’s almost historic.

But, wow, what’s a guy gotta do to get a crowd to move? Sheesh. As it turns out, Zanes was up to the task, but it took some doing: After several roundabout hints (“Do you guys want a concert, or a crazy dance party?”) peppered throughout the set of swinging work tunes drawing on the blues and folk of early American acoustic music, Zanes finally—thankfully—just told the crowd what to do. And, in fairness, the grown ups in the crowd received instruction pretty well.

But prior to Zanes’ gentle directive to form a train and dance around the room, the adults—who, in my opinion, should have been setting an example by leaping around like gleeful jackasses from the first note—evinced not quite enough energy to qualify as reserved. One woman seated in the front row actually asked me, and the very few other people around me dancing with their kids, to sit down so she could see.

I—maybe not quite graciously, a hair shy of patiently—refused. I hope, not too rudely. But, seriously, the greatest thing about the shows that Zanes puts together is the unselfconscious celebration of the power of simple heartfelt music to create a community out of the contact provided in song and dance. Open your mouth, move your feet, grab an instrument or a hand and get up off your . . . well, whatever euphemism for “ass” you use with your own less-than-10-year-old.

(In addition to Zanes’ instruction, it should be noted, Silk and Steel, a local group featuring young steel drummers, a violinist and guitarist, helped build enthusiasm, when called on stage by the bandleader.)

By show’s end, the crowd had warmed up, literally, and gotten its feet and voice enough to sing along and parade with the band out of the theater to the delightful closing waltz, “Sweet Rosyanne.”

But, next time, gang, let’s not wait so long. How are the kids gonna learn to make utter joyous fools of themselves, if not from us? Cool is stupid.

—John Rodat


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