North Mississippi Allstars, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, Rising Star Fife & Drum Band :: 11.11.04 :: Cervantes' Masterpiece :: Denver, Colorado

The first thing that struck me as I walked into Cervantes' Masterpiece on Thursday November 11 was the palpable energy radiating from the crowd. In Denver, week night concerts can tend to be hit or miss, and with the lack of buzz revolving around this show, I was curious to see what the turnout would be. I had so much enjoyed the recent North Mississippi Allstars release; Hill Country Revue that I was looking forward to the show with much anticipation.

Rising Star Fife & Drum Band with L. Dickinson & C. Chew
By Tony Stack :: 11.13 :: Fox Theatre, CO
Cervantes' is located in the middle of Denver's historic Five Points neighborhood. The room holds around 1,000 and has a small balcony surrounding the main floor which provided limited seating at tables with a slightly obstructed view due to the handrails. The interior is awash with color and a huge disco ball hangs above the main floor for additional lighting effect.

The venue filled up quickly and at 9:00 p.m. the sounds of rhythmic marching band style drumming could be heard coming from a room off the left side of the stage. The spotlight shone on the door and the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band came out and snaked their way through the crowd and then back to the stage to be accompanied by Luther Dickinson on guitar for four tunes.

The short opening set was plagued with sound problems as the stage microphones made any vocals completely inaudible to the crowd, but that did not quell the energy in the slightest. Everyone seemed to have latched on to the groove and the masses were shimmying and shaking all over the floor.

Dirty Dozen Brass Band with L. Dickinson
By Tony Stack :: 11.13.04 :: Fox Theatre, CO
At the end of the short set, Luther (who had helped himself to a drum) led the Rising Star band off the stage and back in to the crowd which had reached maximum capacity. At this point the crowd parted and let the drummers make a large circle around the main floor as they made their way back to the dressing room. As one band slid off stage and another slid on it became apparent that the night was going to be very special affair.

Soon the members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band filtered on to the stage. The stage at Cervantes' is pretty small and I was wondering exactly how they were all going to fit, but they managed to squeeze on with few problems. Right from the start of the set however, it became clear that the sound issues had not been corrected. This was a much larger problem for the DDBB than the Rising Star fellas because of the need to amplify the horns which were being lost in the mix. Roger Lewis (baritone and soprano sax) was clearly becoming increasingly agitated that the sound problems were not being corrected. Credit the band for remaining professional and fighting through it though. They played with as much energy as I have ever seen from them which I believe was fueled by the exuberant crowd which was clearly there to have a party no matter the problems. As is often the case, the band invited several lovely young ladies from the crowd to join them onstage to provide some dancing accompaniment (at one point I counted 14 of them on stage). The highlight of the set was a rousing rendition of "When the Saints Go Marching In" and an energetic version of Bill Withers' "Use Me."

Luther Dickinson by Tony Stack
11.13.04 :: Fox Theatre, CO
As the packed club prepared for the NMA I was worried that the sound problems were going to be an issue all night and that was depressing to say the least. However, when the North Mississippi Allstars hit the stage around 11:00 p.m. those fears were laid immediately to rest. From the first note it became clear that the sound problems had been resolved and that Luther Dickinson (guitars, vocals), Cody Dickinson (drums, vocals, washboard, guitars) and Chris Chew (bass, vocals) were there to throw down with intensity.

The set opened with "Shake 'em on Down" which got the crowd moving before they kicked in to a stunning version of "Po Black Maddie" > Skinny Woman" > "Po Black Maddie." During this, Luther amazed everyone with some of the finest slide playing I have ever seen. I think half the crowd had to kick themselves to remember to breathe as Cody pounded in to the drum interlude. Luther's mouth was constantly moving as if he were talking his slide across the strings, carrying on a conversation that everyone could hear, but that perhaps only he could truly comprehend. Then, like a wave crashing on a beach, the Allstars slid in to "Lord Have Mercy" which allowed the crowd to partake in some electric communion.

Chris Chew by Tony Stack
11.13.04 :: Fox Theatre, CO
After a standard rendition of "Ships" the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band climbed back on stage for an epic run through "Never in all my Days" and "Station Blues." With the added percussion, Cody Dickinson made sure he was not forgotten, playing with a frenetic energy closely resembling Neil Peart of Rush. As the Allstars kicked in to "Goin' Down South" the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band tried to leave the stage, only to be pulled back into the fray by Luther, who noticed that the crowd had become a giant swaying beast due to the rhythmic poundings of the added percussive element. The Rising Star Fife & Drum Band certainly added a trance element to the Allstars' music that the crowd devoured with heavy dancing energy.

At the end of "Goin' Down South" the stage was again reduced to the three Allstars for "Drinking Muddy Water." Chris Chew had spent most of the set giving out nods and smiles to those in the crowd, but as is always the case, he was unflappable in the wave of energy being spewed forth by the Dickinson brothers, calmly holding court in his corner of the stage, almost a bemused spectator to the evening's festivities.

NMA with DDBB by Tony Stack
11.13.04 :: Fox Theatre, CO
The remainder of the show saw the reemergence of some members of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and by the time "Be So Glad" had come up in the rotation, the stage was presenting a lively incarnation of the North Mississippi Brass Band with the addition of Brass Band members Roger Lewis, Jamie Mclean and Gregory Davis. Then the limits of space on stage were severely tested with the reappearance of the Rising Star Fife & Drum Band for an all out jam of "Freedom Highway."

During the encore break I cast a weary eye at my watch and noted that it was 2:00 a.m. and I was not sure how much more of the onslaught the crowd could endure. I got my answer shortly when the Allstars hit the stage and Luther stepped up to the mic and stated, "They said there was no curfew here and that we could play all night, so that's what we are going to do." Then they proceeded to fall a little short of that prediction as the final echoes of "All Night Long" drifted out of the monitors as the clock was creeping towards 2:30 a.m. However, everybody in attendance, including the various band members, could safely state that not an ounce of energy was left in the building as people stumbled into the brisk mountain air full of southern soul.

Eric Urbanich
JamBase | Colorado
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[Published on: 11/29/04]

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