Words by Jordan Becker
Photos by Geoff Tischman
reCAP :: Hot Tuna :: 2019.08.16
Aug 21 / Wednesday
50 years and a day before they stepped on The Cap stage, Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Casady were scheduled to close out the second day of music at Woodstock as the lead guitarist and bass player for Jefferson Airplane. But various delays kept them from playing until early the next morning, and Jorma, Jack and their bandmates woke up the masses with a great set of music. Also during 1969, Jorma and Jack began playing gigs as “Hot Tuna,” and what started out as a side project has long outlasted the Airplane and its various offshoots.
Hot Tuna, which focuses on classic and modern blues music, first appeared at The Cap in 1970, along with the Airplane, and the now-forgotten Roxy. The most recent show, which kicked off their 50th Anniversary Electric Tour mostly stuck to a formula: The drummer, Justin Guip, would count off the song and Jorma (or occasionally Jack) would begin playing. Jorma would sing a verse or two, and then there’d be an instrumental jam, highlighting the remarkable interplay between the two men, which is not surprising since they have been playing together for more than 60 years, since they were teenagers in the D.C. area. After the jam, Jorma would sing a few more verses, there’d be another jam, and the song would end. Sure, it’s a formula, but a successful one that should not be tampered with—ask Coke what happens when you mess with success.
Kaukonen is rightfully considered a guitar virtuoso, but that cannot overshadow Casady’s brilliant bass playing: somehow both thundering and intricate, with incredible tonal qualities. And in song after song, they locked together, their instruments entwining for rocking, bluesy genius that had the crowd alternately awestruck and exultant.
A few highlights: The fun Rev. Gary Davis song “Candy Man,” Jorma’s solo in “I See The Light,” the upbeat “Living Just For You,” Casady’s mind-boggling intro to the Bobby Rush cover “Bowlegged Woman, Knock Kneed Man,” and the three songs, late in the set, that Jorma and Jack performed with the Airplane, the Walter Davis song, “Come Back Baby,” which was part of the Woodstock set, “Trial By Fire,” and a transcendent “Good Shepherd.”
The encore broke from the “formula,” because it was an instrumental—the trio’s version of the beautiful “Water Song,” had the crowd on its feet, hoping, in vain, for more.
Opening for Hot Tuna was Sleepy Hollow High School grad David Bromberg fronting a crack quintet that easily could have been the headliner, based on the audience’s appreciative and knowledgeable reactions. In their hour-long performance, they bounced between blues, bluegrass, country, Western Swing, gospel, folk, and rock—in other words, American music.
The second song, “I’ll Take You Back,” was a slow blues that gave fiddler Nate Grower his first of many chances to blow the minds of the audience. Bromberg’s guitar solo was nothing to scoff at, and he also used the song to make a few pointed political and social jokes.
Other highlights included the hysterical, rollicking, “The Holdup,” the bluegrass medley “Cattle in the Cane / Forked Deer / Monroe's Hornpipe,” in which many stringed instruments were played, often very fast, a slow burning “Diamond Lil,” the traditional gospel song “Standing In Need Of Prayer,” performed by the entire quintet a capella, and a rousing “New Lee Highway Blues,” that gave both Grower and guitarist Mark Cosgrove a chance to wow the crowd with inventive soloing.
There really is nothing like having the opportunity to see so many amazing musicians in such a great theater—if there could be any minor complaint with the evening, it was that Bromberg never joined Hot Tuna on stage, as they have played together many times in the past. Maybe next time?
[gallery columns="4" ids="|"]