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Custom Blend

Hot Tuna
The Egg, Dec. 7

Reductivism is a hallmark of any artistic endeavor. Think of a sculptor chipping away at a stone and you get the picture. Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady have excelled at this process, exploring country blues since the late ’50s when they attended high school together in the D.C. area. They came to national prominence in the ’60s as members of a core San Francisco band, Jefferson Airplane, whose delicate balance of disparate elements was undone early on. Concurrent with their Airplane duties, the pair launched Hot Tuna in 1970 before leaving to pursue the originally named Hot Shit (a name their record label wouldn’t touch) in earnest.

Sunday’s show was a full two sets of just Jorma and Jack. Billed as the Original Acoustic Hot Tuna, the first adjective is correct, but the second is a tad free-ranging in its adherence to the word’s meaning, as one of the key elements in their sound is Casady’s electric bass guitar. This onetime poster boy for Haight-Ashbury cool has a sound and approach to his instrument unmatched in the world of rock. Equal parts woody rumble and metallic edge, Casady’s sound was a potent force in the Airplane: “Crown of Creation” boasts a sonic architecture every bit as potent as the onslaught that is Hendrix’s “Are You Experienced?”

The full house was treated to a tour through Hot Tuna’s back catalog of country blues and originals, some new songs, some Jefferson Airplane and several from Kaukonen’s new Blue Country Heart. (It’s one of the year’s finest releases, and fully deserving of a Grammy—any voting members of NARAS reading this who fail to deliver a ballot nod for the album will no longer be entitled to free copies of Metroland. Well, actually, I’m not allowed to make that threat.) Unlike the jamming of some of their Summer of Love compatriots, these two stick to discrete song structures, keeping overt improvisation to traditional solo verses.

And now I must return to the playing of Casady. Kaukonen’s warm and dexterous playing and his casually purposeful singing are rightly in the forefront of each song. It in no way diminishes his artistry to say that he’s working within a tradition, echoing such past masters as the Rev. Gary Davis, Sleepy John Estes and Blind Blake. However, Casady has created something entirely new, a sound that straddles idioms with idiosyncratic perfection. It’s a testament to the duo’s longstanding musical relationship that the bass playing is braided into the guitar lines so completely as to make them sound like one single complex instrument. Thankfully, the pristine sound in the theater let every nuanced note be heard with the clarity of a living room recital.

—David Greenberger

Three Really Is a Crowd

The Forty-Fives, Johnny Rabb and the Jailhouse Rockers
Artie’s Lansingburgh Station, Dec. 7

Artie’s Lansingburgh Station may be the area’s best-kept musical secret. Throughout the past year, the club has hosted a slew of hip and happening (granted, not well-known) garage and rockabilly bands—the Charms, the Masterplan, Downbeat Five—as well as some of the region’s most entertaining local acts. It’s not only the club’s well-booked roster that makes it such a choice hangout. The place has a warm, convivial, we’re-all-loaded-here vibe that can be hard to come by in Albany. People actually dance in front of the stage at Artie’s, and for local color there’s no surpassing the place. (Let’s just say that at Saturday night’s show, additional entertainment was provided by a rather robust bar patron who tricked unsuspecting folks—including the good-humored singer of the Forty-Fives—into lifting up his party hat, which triggered a ridiculously comic cascade of popcorn).

The Forty-Fives are the latest in underrated though vastly entertaining garage bands to swing through Artie’s this year. The Atlanta quartet are currently on tour with surf-twang instrumentalists Los Straitjackets (who played a separate gig on Sunday night at Savannah’s) in support of their second long-player, Fight Dirty. One of the best garage-rock albums released this year, the disc is an infectious slab of raucous party tunes that combines Detroit rock & roll swagger, British Invasion-style harmonics and crisp white-boy R&B.

Sadly, Saturday night’s show was sparsely attended, other than by Artie’s built-in crowd of bar-hugging regulars. “Let’s dedicate a song to all the livers of the people in the room tonight,” joked Forty-Fives drummer Adam Renshaw before the band started their set with “Hanging by a Thread.” Appearing unfazed by the low turnout, the band ripped through their set with an intense energy and joyous, sweaty abandon. Shaggy haired singer Bryan Malone’s cranked-up guitar sounded far more raw and gloriously raunchy live, and the band unveiled cuts from their new album as well as a few stirring covers (Otis Redding’s “Shake,” the Beatles’ “One After 909” and Elvis’ “Let Yourself Go”).

“A lot more people should have been here tonight to hear you,” commiserated Johnny Rabb after thanking the Forty-Fives for their opening set. Rabb and his crew of Jailhouse Rockers topped off the night’s celebratory vibe with a feel-good set that included songs from the canon of rockabilly classics: “Ubangi Stomp,” “The Walkin’ Blues (Walk Right In, Walk Right Out).” For holiday cheer, the band threw some well-chosen Christmas tunes into the mix, including Chuck Berry’s “Run Run Rudolph” and guitarist John Tichy’s own holiday tear-jerker “Daddy’s Drinking up Our Christmas.”

—Kirsten Ferguson

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