The Coach House
San Juan Capistrano, California
October 28, 2010
7 Walkers made their first official run through Southern California with a series of shows along the coast – Hermosa Beach, San Diego, and then after a day off, a night at the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano. While the club was only about half full, the fans in attendance were enthusiastic. In speaking to patrons, it seemed that for the most part, this was their first Walkers experience.
It is important to note that 7 Walkers is not just another Grateful Dead greatest hits cover band. Yes, there are a few Dead songs mixed in with their originals – seemingly a 50/50 split overall. However, their versions of tunes such as "Sugaree" are not in any way familiar, and are put forth in a way that is distinctive to this ensemble. On this night, 7 Walkers entertained at the Coach House with new sounds, new combinations, and a unique and refreshing energy.
7 Walkers is the newest musical exploration by Bill Kreutzmann, the original drummer of the Grateful Dead and perhaps the busiest member of the Dead. In 2009 Bill toured with the latest post-Jerry Garcia version of Grateful Dead, The Dead, but he also toured with a few different combinations of his own including various line-ups of the BK3 (Bill Kreutzmann Trio) and The Rhythm Devils with fellow Dead drum mate Mickey Hart. In addition to this, Bill has been seen sharing the stage with various heavy-hitters such as, Mike Gordon of Phish, Michael Kang of The String Cheese Incident, and Steve Kimock. In so doing, he has stayed both on the beat and relevant while exploring the new sounds that have found their way into 7 Walkers.
Joining Bill is Papa Mali, an Austin, TX-based but Louisiana-raised swamp blues guitarist, singer, and songwriter who has also been collaborating with Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter, creating many new songs for 7 Walkers. On bass is the one and only George Porter Jr., most notably of The Meters/Funky Meters fame; George transports the 7 Walkers into a subterranean groove, and the love and respect that is shown between he and Bill is finding its way into the musical creation of a deeply rhythmic foundation for Papa Mali’s psychedelic guitar sound. Keyboardist and multi-instrumentalist Matt Hubbard (Willie Nelson’s band) rounds out the quartet, and he draws a degree of awe from the audience as he, often simultaneously, plays keyboards coupled with a variety of instruments including harmonica and trombone.
The low turnout at the club combined with the venue’s layout – long tables that led all the way up to the stage – did not make for a dance friendly environ. While many found some space to let loose around the peripheries of the hall, true freeform dance was inhibited by the tables. This was a disappointment as the 7 Walkers’ sound is definitely inspires body movement.
With a rhythm that rocked throughout the night, every song possessed a profoundly cavernous groove that seems to subconsciously grab hearts and move your feet. They opened with spacey jam that segued into a new tune, "Sue from Bogalusa," a powerful boogie jam that pleased the audience. The classic Dead song, "He’s Gone," made its set entry early and as everyone sang along in unison, the place resonated with smiles, smiles, smiles.
One of the sweetest and most powerful songs of the evening came with "Evangeline." Not the Jerry Garcia Band song, this new deeply stirring piece by Robert Hunter and Papa Mali, has music as sweet as its lyrics, with opening riffs that manage to capture a sense of longing. Coupled with the bittersweet lyrics soulfully sung by Papa, it had the audience in a state that likely not be soon forgotten.
George Porter Jr. took lead vocals on a version of "Sugaree" that gave the age-old song a powerful and unsullied lift. Musically, the improvisational jamming that came was nothing short of stellar and opened up all new territories within a tune that any Deadhead knows inside and out.
Closing out the set with originals "Chingo!" and "King Cotton Blues," 7 Walkers stood tall on the strength of their material, not relying on Dead tunes. Rather, this outfit has decided to be a band that does not deny their audience of familiarity but also does not serve up the same dish of which so many are capable. The blend had the audience on the sidelines dancing throughout, and those who had resigned themselves to tables had no choice but to join in with their cohorts. This music moves.
One of the most pleasurable experiences of the evening was examining the interactions between Kreutzmann and Porter Jr. Playing with a musician of George’s tight and funky type showcased a different side of Bill than most Deadheads have come to know through the years. The rhythmic splendor that ensued allowed Bill to make solid use of sitting in the pocket, which only promoted Papa Mali to a place where he could provide soaring leads and swirling psychedelic riffs.
The natural ebb and flow was completed by Matt Hubbard who seamlessly switched from keys to trombone and back, filling in with the harmonica, all while never forgetting to provide the right fills with great timing. It was as though these guys had been playing together for years as their shifts from intensity to softness were flawless and completely organic.
But the 7 Walkers is more than a combination of great and legendary musicians. This is a band made for live performance that is fully capable of creating a live sonic landscape for the audience’s journey that was equal parts fun, emotional, and enthusiastic. Seeing the 7 Walkers in a small venue was quite a treat. It was somewhat surprising that a $20 show that featured a member of the Grateful Dead was so undersold, but that trend will not be one that sustains. As more and more music fans become acquainted with this music, tickets will become a hot and sparse commodity. This is a great new band with strong new songs, a deep musical history, and passion for playing. Perhaps Papa Mali said it best himself when he emphatically proclaimed "this is band!"
Set List: Space > Sue From Bogalusa, He’s Gone, Just Like Tom Thumb’s Blues, Evangeline
Sugaree, Going Down The Road Feeling Bad, New Orleans Crawl, Junco Partner, Friend of the Devil, (For the Love Of) Mr. Okra >Chingo!, King Cotton Blues, Turn On Your Lovelight > Drums and Bass (Bill and George) >Turn On Your Lovelight