Thursday, January 21, 2010
By Scott Mervis
Jorma Kaukonen turned to David Bromberg at the New Hazlett Theater
Tuesday night and posed the question, "Wanna do 'Death'?"
Bromberg, speechless for a moment, joked, "I thought maybe you didn't
like my last song."
With that, the two virtuosos, along with mandolin player Barry
Mitterhoff, ventured into a version of the Rev. Gary Davis' "Death
Don't Have No Mercy" that was particularly chilling given the tragic
scenes in Haiti the past week. Kaukonen handled the vocal in his
signature low moan and Bromberg added a Southern gothic touch with a
twangy bottleneck solo.
When it was done, Bromberg said, "I'm bummed now" and added "I got
other things to worry about than death. I worry about WOMEN!"
That was certainly Bromberg's focus Tuesday night in a meeting of the
masters, both of whom have been plying their trade since the
mid-'60s, and know their way around a guitar neck, even when they
don't know the song.
Kaukonen, of Jefferson Airplane/Hot Tuna fame, looks like a gentleman
on U.S. currency (probably Grant) and served up a range of moods and
styles, from the breezy blues of "There's a Bright Side Somewhere" to
the paint-by-numbers "Come Back Baby" to "I See the Light," which
came with a hint of mesmerizing West Coast psychedelia.
Bromberg, by contrast, pumped out a continuous string of hilarious
she-done-me-wrong songs. Brom-berg fans are used to seeing him
stomping around with all that wild curly hair. These days, he looks
every bit the violin shop owner that he's been for the past 15 years
-- round, with close-cropped hair, goatee and khakis.
Musically, he hasn't changed a bit, still sporting a warm,
full-bodied voice and a way of phrasing 12-bar blues that's all his
own. As the evening wore on, he became more animated, spewing
put-downs like "Get your tongue out of my mouth/'cause I'm kissing
you goodbye!" One glorious change-up in his solo set was "Watch Baby
Fall," a devastating ballad about a father seeing his son through a
life of hard knocks.
As expected, many of the songs were there as a framework for the
picking. The trio traded off solos like they were sitting on their
back porch and the years of experience showed in the myriad of
colors, as sometimes they went for the throat, other times for
delicacy and beauty. They were more than happy to throw it to
Mitterhoff, whose instrument has that ability to ring and sing.
Normally, Kaukonen would encore with "Embryonic Journey," but on this
night he passed it to his partner and they sent the sold-out crowd
home with a version of "Statesboro Blues" that got Bromberg all hot
and bothered. And that is still a sight to see.
Scott Mervis can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-263-2576.