It is a testament to the amazing musicianship of the band Hot Tuna that they can play two generously long sold-out concerts at the Lobero Theatre in Santa Barbara in less than a year, first in acoustic and electric modes last March and then acoustic only last Friday night, and still leave us wanting more.
And as an extra treat this time, the evening started with an eclectic 90-minute set by the David Bromberg Quartet, consisting of the guitar virtuoso and singer Bromberg, plus Nate Grower on fiddle, Butch Amiot on bass guitar and “high harmonies,” and Mitch Corbin on mandolin, guitar and harmonies.
Bromberg and gang kicked things off with a stomping version of “Brown’s Ferry Blues,” with the first of many stellar mandolin, fiddle and guitar solos for the set. This was followed by the wildly amusing woman-done-me-wrong slow blues “Fifty Dollar Wig,” with such lines as “You’ve got a fifty dollar wig sitting on a five dollar head” and “Don’t let the door hit ya where the dog shoulda bit ya.” Particular props go to Grower for his bluesy fiddle solo on this one.
This was followed by “Hello Stranger” with glorious rustic harmonies, another slow blues “The Things I Used to Do,” the country classic “She Thinks I Still Care,” and what I believe was the Gram Parsons obscurity “She’s the Woman I Love” given a full-on treatment. This latter song was perhaps related to Bromberg’s announcement that a hard-core Bromberg tape trader was in the audience, and he wanted to do some songs that the trader hadn’t heard live before.
After a cool solo guitar instrumental by Corbin, Bromberg returned by himself for “Statesboro Blues,” with impassioned singing and a nod to his coordinates for the night with the lyrics “Gonna hang around Santa Barbara and get me some jelly roll.”
Bromberg was then joined by Hot Tuna’s Jorma Kaukonen on acoustic guitar and Barry Mitterhoff on mandolin, with Kaukonen joking to the spirited Bromberg that, “You really gotta work on coming out of your shell a little bit.” The trio played “Uncle Sam Blues” with Kaukonen on vocals and Bromberg on slide guitar, and then what I believe was the super old “Ninety-Eight Degree Blues.”
Bromberg’s band returned for Ian Tyson’s “Summer Wages,” “Tongue” off Bromberg’s new album, Use Me, and an unamplified and very effective encore “Roll On John.”
After a long intermission, Hot Tuna — consisting of Kaukonen on acoustic guitar and vocals, Jack Casady on bass guitar and Mitterhoff on mandolin — started their set, which was even longer than Bromberg’s, with the early Hot Tuna song “Been So Long.”
This was followed by “Children of Zion,” the first of several songs by the Rev. Gary Davis, who Kaukonen has often acknowledged as a primary influence on his guitar playing. This song is also one of the highlights on Hot Tuna’s new album, Steady As She Goes. Other Rev. Gary Davis songs on the program were the Piedmont fingerstyle showcase (and a personal favorite) “I Am the Light of This World,” “Let Us Get Together Right Down Here,” “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” and Hot Tuna’s signature song “Hesitation Blues,” which featured a super cool bass solo from the always tasteful Casady.
Blues songs by other artists also got the Hot Tuna treatment, including Lightnin’ Hopkins’ “Come Back Baby” with masterful interplay between the musicians, Julius Daniels’ “99 Blues,” Mose Allison’s “Parchman Farm,” Blind Blake’s “That’ll Never Happen No More,” the traditional “I Know You Rider” with a smoking mandolin solo from Mitterhoff, and John Lee Hooker’s “Helpless Blues” to close the show, for which Bromberg joined in and did some serious string bends on his acoustic guitar.
There were also a few more choice songs off Hot Tuna’s new album: the ballad “Things That Might Have Been” about Kaukonen’s relationship with his brother, and the touching “Second Chances.”
But the highlight of the evening for me was “Genesis,” the opening track off Kaukonen’s underappreciated solo album, Quah, presented here without the string accompaniment, making the song even more pure. This one was so beautiful that it literally brought tears to my eyes.
I’m not sure if we’ll be so lucky as to have Hot Tuna return to Santa Barbara again in less than a year, but if or when they do, they’ll certainly be welcome back.
Setlist for David Bromberg
Brown’s Ferry Blues
Fifty Dollar Wig
The Things I Used to Do
She Thinks I Still Care
She’s the Woman I Love
Instrumental (Mitch Corbin)
Statesboro Blues / Church Bell Blues
Uncle Sam Blues
Ninety-Eight Degree Blues
Roll On John
Setlist for Hot Tuna
Been So Long
Children of Zion
Another Man Done a Full Go Round
99 Year Blues
I Am the Light of This World
Come Back Baby
Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning
Things That Might Have Been
Let Us Get Together Right Down Here
That’ll Never Happen No More
I Know You Rider
— Noozhawk contributing writer Jeff Moehlis is a professor of mechanical engineering at UCSB. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his Web site, music-illuminati.com.