Someplace to Boogie

Merl Saunders

Buddy Guy's Legends - Chicago

May 9, 1996

First Appeared in The Music Box, May 1996, Volume 3, #3

Written by John Metzger

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Deadheads looking for a good party where they can dance to some of their favorites served up funky-style should check out Merl Saunders and his Rainforest Band. The current line-up of the band has been in place for several years and has grown together to lay down some tight, funky jams on many familiar tunes.

On May 9, Saunders and company made a return engagement at Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago and laid down 2 sets of lengthy jams. The crowd was mixed, ranging from deadheads to wannabes to business folks checking out the club. When visiting Buddy Guy's, move to the far side, away from the bar to avoid the drunken fools who have yet to learn how to behave without irritating their fellow beings. Unfortunately, I didn't figure this out until the second set, which really put a damper on the first part of the show.

Saundres opened with a fairly standard rendition of (Finders) Keepers before pulling out an excellent version of Tore Up. The highlight of the first set was Saunders' tribute to Jerry Garcia, a fantastic version of Dark Star that soared in many different directions. Rather than stick to a straight rendition, Saunders and his band made it their own. The first set closed with a solid Sugaree.

The second set was nothing short of spectacular, opening with High-Heeled Sneakers. Saunders has been doing The Harder They Come for a long time, and this was a wonderfully paced version as guitarist Michael Hinton and Saunders traded solos, each taking the song to a higher level. The set concluded with a fiery flourish as the band first broke into Jimi Hendrix's Fire, with the audience providing a huge level of energy and enthusiasm. This led to the more mellow Dance of the Fireflies from Saunders' Blues for the Rainforest album. For this one, Saunders passed out to the audience his "toys," a number of percussion instruments. One audience member was invited on stage to play another "toy" from the rainforest. The set concluded with Fire on the Mountain. This version went on forever and was loaded with soaring guitar and keyboard solos. Boy, do I miss the Grateful Dead, but this one certainly carried me pretty far away. The encore was a brief pairing of Thank you Falettinme Be Mice Elf Agin and I Feel Like Dynamite. Funky rhythms pounded from Michael Warren's bass, but due to the curfew, these two songs were hardly allowed to build to their potential. Off we went, dancing our way into the streets of Chicago and home to rest for the Bruce Hornsby show the next evening.

Keepers is available from Barnes & Noble.
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Copyright 1996 The Music Box