Jorma Kaukonen - guitar, vocals; Jack Casady - bass; Papa John Creach - electric violin; Sammy Piazza - drums
This benefit concert for the California Marijuana Initiative featured Copperhead, Stoneground and Dan Hicks and the Hot Licks on a bill with headliners Hot Tuna.
There is probably no Hot Tuna album more universally loved than the band's 1972 release, Burgers. The disk effectively struck a perfect balance between the acoustic and electric extremes that had come to define the two, distinct facets of the band - aside from featuring some of their most captivating material. This concert captures the band at that exact point in time - playing with a creativity and competence more viable than ever before.
With Papa John Creach's electric violin and Sammy Piazza's drums augmenting Kaukonen and Casady's distinctive sound, these performances are full of raw expressive energy. Unlike earlier and later permutations of the band that often jammed on almost anything and everything they played, however, the group here focuses on more concise, precise arrangements. This more conservative approach reveals the true beauty of much of their material while allowing one to appreciate the incredible musicianship of Kaukonen and Casady; their interplay and control of dynamics is, at times, astounding.
Following their introduction, the band gets things off to a rousing start with several classic songs including "Candyman," "Been So Long" and "Uncle Sam's Blues." Following a break to tune up and allow some stage announcements to be made, the group brings Papa John Creach to the fore and perform his showcase instrumental "John's Other," to rapturous applause.
They then launch into the new Burgers material, beginning with the searing blues tune "Ode To Billy Dean," featuring scorching guitar work from Kaukonen. Next up is possibly the most beautiful and fully realized instrumental that Jorma ever wrote: "Water Song." Much like his classic Airplane instrumental "Embryonic Journey," this composition features outstanding finger picking guitar work, punctuated by Casady's contrapuntal bass playing. Hearing this song live, while still so fresh, is an incredible pleasure and certainly one of the most captivating moments of the show. "Keep On Truckin" completes this initial trio of Burgers songs. A powerful tune that served as the album opener, the number unfortunately did not remain in the band's repertoire for too long.
At this point, the group seems itching to jam, and presently embark on Rev. Gary Davis' "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning," and take the opportunity to stretch out a bit. They return to the new album material for "Sea Child," another of Jorma's most captivating songs. This is played very close to the album arrangement, which in this case is wonderful, as that version was a perfect example of this lineup's incredible ensemble playing. They continue with "Trial By Fire," a Jefferson Airplane song that always seemed pure Hot Tuna.
After another brief break to retune and make additional stage announcements, the group performs "True Religion" followed by a second extended improvisation on "Death Don't Have No Mercy." They close the show in a very unusual manner, performing an instrumental version of "Milk Train," which was a rare songwriting collaboration between Creach and Grace Slick.
This show is early Hot Tuna at its best and most accessible. This particular lineup only lasted a short time, but the music they created sounds as intriguing today as it did 35 years ago.