Hot Tuna Blues

House of Blues - Chicago

December 5, 1997

First Appeared in The Music Box, February 1998, Volume 5, #2

Written by John Metzger

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Hot Tuna has been recording and touring for more than 25 years, and as its performance on December 5 at Chicago's House of Blues proved, it still has a lot to say. The band developed as an offshoot of Jefferson Airplane, and at its core is guitarist/vocalist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady. Augmented by keyboardist Pete Sears, guitarist Michael Falzarano, and drummer/percussionist Harvey Sorgen, the group performed two sets, totaling two hours and forty minutes, of scorching blues-based songs.

Kaukonen handled a majority of the vocals with ease and grace, delivering each line with a Dylan-esque sneer. At times, his voice did get lost in the mix, but this was the only deficiency of an otherwise perfect performance.

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Falzarano handled the balance of the vocals, most notably on Gypsy Fire perhaps the best song that Hot Tuna performed this evening. He delivered the song with a guttural drawl, as Kaukonen took the opportunity to step back from the microphone and unleash a pair of blues-y solos that were truly masterpieces. His guitar playing mutated from his own unique style to that of Eric Clapton and even Duane Allman.

Throughout the evening, each solo that soared from Kaukonen's guitar fit the song and the mood perfectly. On selections like Walkin' Blues, How Long Blues, and Hesitation Blues, Kaukonen picked his way through a solid groove. Tunes like Come Back Baby provided quite a contrast as Kaukonen unleashed a furious onslaught of electrified notes guaranteed to melt your brain. Of course, there were also the more folk-based arrangements like Good Shepherd on which his guitar sang beautifully, dodging in and out of Casady's glistening bass patterns.

Casady was just about everywhere, both musically and physically. He ambled back and forth across the stage, at times jumping and dancing with an intense energy that refused to be contained. His bass playing cleanly cut through the mix, whether he was playing a more traditional bass pattern or stepping to the edge of the stage to tear through a bass solo while the rest of Hot Tuna jammed through a swirling sequence of chords.

Hot Tuna even pulled out a mini-set of stripped-down songs, featuring Sears on accordion and Sorgen on a washboard. The band tore through Let Us Get Together Right Down Here and Candyman as Sorgen danced around the stage, tapping out a series of rhythmic patterns to punctuate the songs.

The most amazing aspect of the evening was the way that Hot Tuna performed as a cohesive unit. It never felt as if it was time for one person to take a solo. Instead, the band jammed each person playing what they wanted to play while remaining in the context created by the other musicians. The interplay was not limited to Kaukonen and Casady. Each member of the ensemble took part in the dense, musical mural that became each song. Whether it was Falzarano adding some extra punch to the rhythmic chords of Embryonic Journey, Sears subtle keyboard accompaniments and swirling solos, or Casady's vigorous lead bass lines, the group moved as one in its kaleidoscopic endeavor.

Hot Tuna capped off the evening with a solid run-through of the Grateful Dead's Friend of the Devil. Sung by Falzarano, the band put its own blues-based stamp on the song, making the tune its own. It was a fine way to end an outstanding evening of music.

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Copyright 1998 The Music Box