Saturday, November 21, 2015

Hot Tuna at the Beacon Theatre

Jack Casady & Jorma Kaukonen
Hot Tuna formed in 1969 as a spin-off of Jefferson Airplane while vocalist Grace Slick was recovering from throat node surgery and was unable to perform. Hot Tuna began by covering many Airplane tunes and adding traditional blues and folk songs. When Slick was ready to resume singing, the members of Hot Tuna returned to Jefferson Airplane. Hot Tuna performances were intermittent, sometimes even opening for the Airplane, until the demise of the Airplane in 1972. Guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady then turned Hot Tuna into a full-time band. Hot Tuna's most recent album is 2011's Steady as She Goes.

This weekend's Hot Tuna concerts at the Beacon Theatre celebrated Kaukonen's 75th birthday and the 50th anniversary of Jefferson Airplane. Tonight, the second night, the first part of the set consisted of Kaukonen, Casady and drummer Justin Guip performing mostly Americana tunes. Kaukonen used two electric guitars, one for the bluesy songs and the other for the folkie songs. Kaukonen's blues work was impressive, but when he played the folk songs, he was outstanding, perhaps the best in the field, with a busy finger-picking style hearkening back to Rev. Gary Davis. The set ended with two rockers, "Funky #7" and "Hit Single #1." The second set featured a larger ensemble performing Jefferson Airplane songs. Vocalists Jeff Pehrson, Rachel Price (Lake Street Dive) and Teresa Williams, and guitarists G.E. Smith (on a rare 12-string Telecaster!) and Larry Campbell joined the three core musicians. Kaukonen and Casady, the only Airplane members onstage, for the most part laid back, however, and let others direct the music. Here is where the evening began to tread water, as these covers paid tribute but reflected little of the magic of the original versions. Twenty-five songs after it all began, all 10 musicians jammed on the Grateful Dead's "Sugaree." Overall it was a pleasant show, honoring the vast history of Hot Tuna and Jefferson Airplane.

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