Here Comes Sunshine
Vince Welnick & Missing Man Formation
with Ekoostik Hookah & Keller Williams
House of Blues - Chicago
August 6, 1998
First Appeared in The Music Box, September 1998, Volume 5, #9
Written by John Metzger
After somewhat of a struggle, Grateful Dead keyboard player Vince Welnick finally made it back to Chicago. Last summer's Pirate's Ball tour was thrown into chaos when Rick Danko of The Band encountered an array of legal problems. So, Welnick's group Missing Man Formation managed to patch together a small tour of the East Coast. This year, the tables were turned, and it was the Midwest that was treated to a short, four-show tour that included stops in Minneapolis, Milwaukee, Chicago, and Detroit.
On August 6, Missing Man Formation, along with Ekoostik Hookah and Keller Williams, took Chicago's House of Blues by storm, and the entourage essentially put on its own Furthur Festival. Welnick was delightfully energetic as he directed the band, shook hands with many of the members of the audience, and layered each song with deliciously flamboyant aural textures. The Devil I Know was a high-energy assault laced with a healthy dose of Terry Haggerty's blazing guitar. Providing the perfect counterattack, the group launched into Traffic's Rainmaker. Drummer Trey Sabatelli sang Steve Winwood's gloriously majestic vocal part with fluid ease, Bobby Strickland added a flute solo that danced mercilessly around the framework of the song. During the concluding jam, the ensemble changed directions, picked up the pace, and moved the song through a funky interlude loosely based on Bill Withers' Use Me. Robin Sylvester blasted through a brief bass solo, guiding the band into Samba in the Rain. Strickland switched from flute to tenor saxophone, giving the song a lounge-jazz flair.
With each song that Missing Man Formation played, the group seemed to improve. The Wheel featured a glorious interplay between Haggerty, Welnick on organ, and Strickland on soprano sax. The band reinvented Cosmic Charlie in the blues vein from which it was originally derived. A tribal drum beat and an eerie, Eastern-tinged intro hinted at Led Zeppelin's In the Evening before exploding into another Zeppelin song — Kashmir. It was a thunderous assault as the ensemble tore through the song with a vengeance. Acid-drenched notes flew from Haggerty's guitar, filling the air with psychedelic images. Welnick provided a swirling maelstrom of keyboard textures and sang with a synthesizer-altered voice that bore an uncanny resemblance to Robert Plant. Sabatelli and Sylvester pounded out the groove for the song, filling the room with a mighty storm and giving it the weight of an out-of-control freight train.
Next, Missing Man Formation completely changed gears, pulling out a gutsy cover of The Beatles' Because — and nailing it perfectly! Welnick, Strickland, Sylvester, and Sabatelli magically captured the beautiful Beach Boys-style harmonies of the song. Here Comes Sunshine brought back the memories of the triumphant return of this Grateful Dead classic. [On October 31, 1992, Welnick opened a show for the Jerry Garcia Band and performed Here Comes Sunshine as well as Golden Road (to Unlimited Devotion).]
Welnick's set was sandwiched within a pair of songs that paid tribute to Jerry Garcia. The band had started its set with Golden Days, which was well-played but marred by a few sound problems that seemed to distract the group. True Blue ended the set, bringing things full circle and clearly into perspective. Haggerty started the latter song with a sweet, tender guitar solo. Strickland took over with an equally majestic tenor saxophone excursion before Welnick nodded to ignite the key change and the start of True Blue. Welnick proclaimed, "The world came crashing down on me, but I'm much better now that I can see all of my friends. True blue."
It's been nearly three years since Garcia's passing. The wheel is turning. You can't go back, and you can't stand still. Welnick has moved forward. Though he only performed with the Grateful Dead for five short years, he clearly understands what made the group so good. He finally brought his own version of the Grateful Dead experience out on the road and filled it with a whole lotta love straight from his heart.
Keller Williams performed a 20-minute set between Ekoostik Hookah and Missing Man Formation. Williams is a talented rhythm guitarist and accompanies himself with a variety of trumpet and percussion sounds, which he creates with his voice. It was difficult at times to hear him as a sizable portion of the crowd paid very little attention to his set and chose instead to talk.
Ekoostik Hookah opened the show with a 75-minute set filled with amazing, transportational jams. The band is rather chameleon-like in the way that it effortlessly propels itself from one style to the next, grabbing onto anything from bluegrass to jazz and covering the sound of Phish, The Allman Brothers, The Grateful Dead, Ian Anderson (of Jethro Tull), and Cat Stevens. It wasn't always easy to pick each instrumentalist out of the mix, but one thing was clear: This is a talented band. Indeed, jam bands seem to be everywhere these days, and it's often difficult to keep track of which ones are worth checking out. This band is definitely one to watch.
Vince Welnick & Missing Man Formation is available
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Ekoostik Hookah's Where the Fields Grow Green is available from
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1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 1998 The Music Box