North Mississippi Allstars | 02.28.04 | Theater for the Living Arts | Philadelphia, PA

Can I get grits with that? A hearty smorgasbord of Southern fried licks was just what I needed to warm my innards as the Philly winter drags on. Being a Southern boy myself and fairly new to Philly, I can't help but notice the fact that good ol' boots-clickin' music is somewhat scarce up in these parts! I've really been needin' a dose of it for what ails me.

MOFRO set the tone earlier as they opened up and set the bar very high. They can clearly hold their own and should be headlining rather than opening... but I'll take it. I get two for one tonight.

Luther Dickinson by Jaci Downs
On to the Allstars... Wait, is this the right band? Sounds like something from Eat a Peach to start off the show. Turns out to be the hearty and happy opener "Goin' Home" that fueled a nasty jam before going back into itself... which is right where I thought I was for a time—-back home.

I was so entranced with the sounds from home that I missed the Fred Berry sighting on stage! No wait, it's just the Rerun-looking Chris Chew on bass throwing me with his bright red Kangol beret he was rocking. And there's Luther Dickinson with his Ace Frehley-looking heavy metal guitar. Luther reminds me of a tree-huggin' alternative band agent who, with his very hip, black-rimmed glasses, looks like a cross between Buddy Holly, Roy Orbison, Elvis Costello, and Andy Warhol all in one. His brother Cody is also very unassuming, with his ragged t-shirt, baby face, and uncombed bowl haircut behind the drums. And then there's blues legend R. L. Burnside's son Duwayne on guitar. Each of these four members looks completely different from each other--if you had a room of ten people including these four, you would never be able to pick out the four members of a Southern rock 'n' roll band. Moral of the story: "Never judge a book by its cover."

Duwayne Burnside by Jaci Downs
Though drastically physically different from each other, the one clear thing that these guys have in common is their music. This is what makes the North Mississippi Allstars special. You get a great sense of their spirit and it's easy to see that they come from the same place and backgrounds, which is why they play with such unity and soul.

After "Be So Glad" I could have sworn I heard a "Voodoo Chile" tease, which went back into "Goin' Home." I really liked the ending to "Never In All My Days," which featured a rapid drum and bass finale with Luther switching guitar while Chris fed us a masterful bass solo. Luther got down on his rhythm guitar while Duwayne took the lead for "Eyes," bringing us some very fast licks. His singing sounded like Robert Cray back in his Strong Persuader days.

Back to the roots they go with "I Got the Blues," with Duwayne still on lead and Luther contributing nicely. Luther brings back "Ace" for one of my faves, "Goin' Down South," which is very rhythmic and enveloping, to say the least (I was singing it for days in the back of my mind after the show). Soon after there was an unimpressive Duwayne song, "Meet Me In the City," but he made up for it tenfold with his jam on "All Alone."

Cody Dickinson by Jaci Downs
As the show moved on Luther took over lead once again, literally, and this time, he had an edge to him. Just when I was bracing for a set break after the ballad "Whiskey Rock and Roller," they kept on going. The show was at roughly 16 songs at this point. After a very hard close to "WR&R," typical of set-ending songs, Cody switches with Duwayne and sings lead with Duwayne playing the drums. WOW! The Dickinsons' duel on stage was very memorable indeed. Luther adds a sick jam before busting out "Big Red" (another guitar) and starts with the slide. Cody, in turn, pulls out his electric washboard and gets so funky that he starts grinding the microphone across the board as if it were a spoon!

Along with the great music was the format: after 24 songs in a row, THEN I feel I've earned the right for a break... and I guess, they feel that way too. As we all know, the pressure to conform does not influence the North Mississippi Allstars, and if they feel like blending both sets into one, they will do it.

After the first encore, JJ Grey from MOFRO came on to join the Allstars on keys in a wonderful rendition of "Up Over Yonder." JJ can tickle the ivories, for sure.

As usual, NMA brought the much-needed heat to begin winter's thaw in Philly's South Side. In credit to them, they didn't need much time on stage to perfect the sound that I have come to love.

C. Bradford Craig
JamBase | Philadelphia
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[Published on: 3/14/04]

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