Warren brings new band to Memphis

Warren Haynes Band
Minglewood Hall
Memphis, TN
May 21, 2011

That Warren Haynes guy – he’s pretty amazing. Forget for a second that Rolling Stone named him one of the top 25 guitarists (#23) ever. Ignore the fact that he’s the total package when it comes to musicianship – a guy who can sing, play, AND write songs.

whb2.jpgHaynes is a workhorse of the highest order, but his propensity for the road isn’t breaking news. What’s remarkable is the 180° turn Haynes has taken with his new touring act, the Warren Haynes Band. For a guy who came up playing with David Allen Coe and has been a Southern Rock mainstay for decades, this new band is a slight departure from formula. The band’s new album was released on the rejuvenated Stax label, an imprint that historically leans toward R&B and soul, but the act that took the stage in Memphis was chock full of sounds that would have been right at home in the most authentic club in New Orleans.

Touring behind the band’s debut release, Man In Motion, it was expected that the band would unleash most of the new songs upon Memphis, and they did – six of the ten songs were on the setlist. Unfortunately, there weren’t nearly enough people there to bear witness. With the Hangout Festival the same weekend, the audience maybe breached the 500 mark. Those that were there, however, got a full dose of Haynes.

His new material was fresh, and in certain cases, especially poignant: right before breaking out “River’s Gonna Rise,” Haynes discussed how when the tune was written, it meant one thing, but standing in Memphis where the Missisisippi River recently reached near historic flood levels, it had a whole new meaning.

The first set on the whole was an announcement that this was one hell of a band, no suprise given the crack players Haynes has put together to join him on tour. Ron Johnson (bass / Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, New Monsoon) and Terrence Higgins (drums / Dirty Dozen Brass Band) provided a rock-solid rhythm section, and the songs were colored by Nigel Hall (keys / Lettuce), saxophone guru Ron Holloway and the powerful pipes of Alfreda Gerald.

The band broke out a stellar cover of Tower of Power’s “What Is Hip?,” which Johnson utterly owned, delivering a pulsing bassline that rocked Minglewood’s foundation. “Hattiesburg Hustle” is sure to develop into quite the song live, and the band reached way back for “Blue Radio,” a track from Haynes’ previous solo album, Tales From Ordinary Madness…from 1993.

Haynes came out on his own, acoustic guitar in hand, to open the second set. For a guy who can lay down blistering guitar solos with zero effort, it’s possible he shines brightest when he’s got an acoustic in hand. His cover of Van Morrison’s “Ballerina” was fabulous and his take on the Derek Trucks Band’s “Back Where I Started” was great as well, but the acoustic version of “Wine and Blood,” from Gov’t Mule’s Deja Voodoo was a revelation – the acoustic version of the song is superior to it’s recorded companion.

whb1.jpgAfter Haynes ran through the Allman Brothers’ “Old Friend,” he brought the band back out and traded his acoustic for the electric and ran through the rest of the second set, which brimmed with energy. “Your Wildest Dreams” dripped with soul, and then the band dipped back to ’93 for “Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye,” driven by the phenomenal sax work from Holloway and the powerful drums of Higgins.

The set closed with the title track from the new disc, “Man In Motion,” apropos given that Haynes really is a man in motion, constantly dipping his toe in whatever project grabs his fancy. The tune gave Hall a chance to shine, as his organ work really gave the tune a funky edge.

It was no shock that “Soulshine” was the show-closer. However cliche the song has become, it’s still a tremendous piece of music, and in this case, it was taken to another level by Gerald’s vocals. She gave it a female touch that is often lacking when Gov’t Mule or the Allman Brothers tackle the song, and it really pushed the song to new heights.

While the Warren Haynes Band may not possess the edge that a lot of Haynes fans have come to expect, it really shows the versatility of a guy who already was one of, if not the, most versatile musician touring. The funk dripped from the stage at times, and the audience was given a full-on dose of Memphis soul at others. All in all, it represented another stellar project from Warren Haynes, but really…at this point, does anyone expect anything less?

Click the thumbnail to view more photos by Josh Mintz

Set 1: Tear Me Down, On A Real Lonely Night, River’s Gonna Rise, Invisible, From A Whisper To A Scream, What Is Hip?, Hattiesburg Hustle, Blue Radio, Sick of My Shadow

Set 2: Ballerina*, Wine And Blood*, Back Where I Started*, Old Friend*, Your Wildest Dreams, Kiss Tomorrow Goodbye, Baby Love, Fire In The Kitchen, Man In Motion

Encore: Soulshine