They didn’t do too badly for guitarists did they? The Allman Brothers lost Duane tragically in 1971 but continued on with three of the finest southern style men that ever plugged in a Les Paul, in the shapes of Dickey Betts, Derek Trucks and tonight’s guest at the Kantine in Cologne – Warren Haynes. Sadly we will never know how great Duane Allman might have become. We can however check up on the playing of Mr Haynes, and I think Duane would have been smiling on Saturday.
It will take hours for me to get back to Bonn, so this outing to the outer edge of Cologne is a good indication of my regard for Warren Haynes and my expectancy of what I will hear. Initial indications were good: “Eight O’clock start and finish around ten fifteen” I was told. Let the good times roll…
I’d come down to Cologne after playing the recent ‘Ashes & Dust’ disc. It’s a set packed full of acoustic gems that had me wondering why Haynes wasn’t booked for the Kunstrasen in Bonn instead. I was imagining something like Chris De Burgh’s show with a bare minimum of backing and an even barer level of volume. Now, waiting in front of the stage, I don’t see an acoustic amongst Hayne’s guitar rack collection, and why are there SIX microphone stands in front of me?
When the lights go out and come back on again they reveal, left to right, a rhythm guitarist, an electronic mandolin, drums, bass, and violin/fiddle player. Maybe this will be noisy? There’s certainly plenty of power coming from the opening ‘Is it me or you?’ that isn’t evident on the new CD where it seems very laid back. This will not be the half expected evening for sleepy gently balladry.
The evening does though provide a veritable treasure trove of musical styles. Clearly Hayne’s finds his Gov’t Mule formation too tight a corset for his present creativity and that’s in part what brought me out to Cologne this evening – to see a musician really at the very top of his game musically and lyrically. Pity any mediocre musician who has to keep up with this creativity! In the event there is no pity needed because the band this evening is top drawer for accompanying such a varied musical journey – with Bluegrass trio ChessBoxer adding a wealth of Country, Cajun, Jazz and Folk colour to the show. Matt Menefee on electric mandolin and banjo particularly impresses when trading licks with Haynes.
The whole band shine on the number ‘Company Man’ which, like the entire new disc, also shows Haynes to be as fine a songwriter as he is a guitarist. The songs protagonist could have stepped right out of a Springsteen classic but is in fact drawn from the father of Warren Haynes. Great stuff both musically and lyrically.
I find later that the sound is better from further back in the hall but up front and close I can get to see Hayne’s playing style. It’s really fascinating to watch the hand on the end of his beefy right arm play so delicately and deftly as if he’s knitting the notes together with thumb and index finger only to hammer down again, with his pick appearing as if he were a magician with it hidden up his sleeve. I missed Satriani and Vai in Bonn last week, but I can’t honestly believe they could have been better. Like I said – right now Warren Haynes is is at the top of his game.
He knows it too. There’s a look in his eyes that says he’s hearing on his guitar what he’s hearing in his head. He’s listening for it too in every note the band plays. When they all fire perfectly you can see the smile grow on his face and on this fine Saturday night he smiles A LOT!
For the record there was a large smattering of the new CD, it’s folk-like sound on disc very much beefed up by the band. There were classics from the Allman days too as with ‘Blue Sky’, ‘Dusk Till Dawn’ and a spellbinding ‘Jessica’ featuring some unforgettable lick trading between guitar mandolin and fiddle. Classics of a different sort also came with Little Feat’s ‘Skin It Back’ a surprise rocked up take of ‘Lucy In The Sky With Diamonds’ and an encored ‘Pride & Joy’ with extra harmonica support.
My journey home took as long as the concert but seemed five times as long. Time is indeed relative. This is the last leg of the tour so there isn’t much time to catch Warren Haynes in this formation left. I suspect a Gov’t Mule’ tour is likely next on the starting blocks for a man currently so bursting with creativity that he could play a Jazz cellar, Folk Club, Night-time Honky Tonk or Arena in a heartbeat and bring a different set to each. A Man well and Truly In Motion right now.