reCAP :: Electric Hot Tuna w/ New Riders of The Purple Sage :: 2015.07.18
When people were up and dancing in the aisles for the first song of the night, it was clear that it was going to be a special evening. New Riders of the Purple Sage kicked off their opening set with “Where I Come From,” the title track from their 2009 album, which ended in a tight jam that showcased the sparkling synergy the band still shares after playing together for over 50 years.
David Nelson, the band’s co-founder, guitarist, and vocalist, reflected on the band’s earlier days, remembering the “great fun” they had opening for the Grateful Dead at The Cap in the 70s. It was a welcome nod to the past that the crowd surely appreciated, as many were covered in stealies and dancing bears.
Cheers of recognition filled the theater as the band began playing “Henry,” a fun foot-stomper that can traced back to the 60s. More and more people got up on their feet and sang along, and the rapport between the band and the crowd continued to grow even stronger. Their set culminated in their much loved cover of the Stones’ “Dead Flowers,” which had the whole theater singing along and on their feet for a standing ovation.
A band like New Riders of the Purple Sage could have easily relied on the mysticism and nostalgia of the olden days, back when the likes of Jerry Garcia, Mickey Hart, and Phil Lesh were regular members. But of course, they didn’t do that. NRPS still puts all of their energy into their live shows. With clear vocals and tight instrumentals, the band still rocks just as hard as they did when they started. And despite the fact that it had been 15 years since NRPS last played at The Cap, it felt like they had never left.
Electric Hot Tuna found their groove in the very first song. Their sound was impeccable, the setlist was varied and well-paced, and the crowd was singing and dancing along all night. They kicked off their set with “I See the Light,” a favorite from their 1974 record The Phosphorescent Rat. This song in particular really showcased the mastery that both Jorma Kaukonen (guitar) and Jack Casady (bass) have over their instruments. Kaukonen’s low, husky vocals gave the song a smoky, easy-going vibe that prepared the crowd for the rest of the show.
The energy really started to pick up when Electric Hot Tuna jumped into “Bowlegged Woman, Knock-Kneed Man.” Casady began the song, thundering through a four note riff that elicited excited cheers from the crowd. His ability to enrapture the whole theater with such a simple bassline was a testament to the band’s high performance level. Justin Guip’s drumbeat came in next, with Kaukonen’s bluesy guitar and vocals layering in one at a time. The song was like a test of endurance, showing the crowd that the band could maintain the bluesy guitar solos and steady bassline, all while continuing to push more energy out into the crowd.
The audience particularly enjoyed “99 Year Blues,” a steady, feel-good cover of Julius Daniels’ popular blues classic. Kaukonen’s vocals stood out in this song; not only did he understand the history of the song they were playing, but he was able to fully express it, too. As they began the final song of the evening, “Funk #7,” the crowd was completely captivated. Once again, Casady dove in first with a low and funky bass line, and Kaukonen continued to impress with his guitar solos.
Of course, it left everyone wanting more. Luckily for us, after a round of enthusiastic applause, the band was persuaded to come back out for just one more song, ending the night with the aptly named “Hit Single #1” as their encore. They jumped headfirst into the fast-paced and rocky romp, with Kaukonen quickly tearing through his vocals and guitar licks while Casady strode around the stage. The trio was in perfect sync, leaving us all thoroughly enthralled as we ended the night just as we began it: singing and dancing in the aisles.