North Mississippi Allstars/The City Champs
November 26, 2010
Luther Dickinson walked onto the stage and grabbed the mic. He said, "Happy Thanksgiving, hometown," and the North Mississippi Allstars ripped into "All Night Long." For the next few hours, the crowd at Minglewood Hall danced the lingering tryptophan away, hoping that the party would go on as long as the song states.
Memphis Holiday shows have turned into a sort of tradition for the Allstars; be it Thanksgiving, Christmas, or New Year’s Eve, it’s a near guarantee that local fans will spend at least one of the Fall/Winter holidays with the North Mississippi Allstars.
The night started with another local act the City Champs, an instrumental trio (Joe Restivo – guitar; Al Gamble – organ; George Sluppick – drums) that represents just what Memphis is all about – soul, and they have it dripping like BBQ sauce from a wet rib.
The Champs are currently touring behind latest release, The Set-Up, and they set a high bar for the Allstars to start the evening, blazing through new tracks like "Drippy" and "Ricky’s Rant" that stand up to anything that Galactic is putting out.
The rapport between Sluppick (who used to drum for JJ Grey and Mofro), Restivo and Gamble is amazing considering how young this band is in the grand scheme of things. They’re sure to make some noise on the national scene sooner rather than later.
The Allstars haven’t toured much in 2010 – Luther’s been with the Crowes for a large chunk of the year which, for most bands, would derail any momentum.
Not the Allstars, though. This is one tight trio and they made that clear from the first notes. Maybe it was the comfort level of playing in Memphis – as Luther stated following "Down In Mississippi" – "there’s no place like home."
But, perhaps it’s that there’s renewed vigor for a band that’s been on the road since they were teenagers with very little (if any) downtime. Luther’s time with the Crowes has given the other guys a little bit of a break (not that either Cody Dickinson or Chris Chew sat on their hands but…), and for the guitarist, it’s clearly given him confidence to step out and be the front man he is destined to be. His playing was breathtakingly great.
The band was in fine spirits, and their playing reflected it – they were loose in their demeanors but tight in their delivery. Over the two sets (a novelty in itself for a band that usually plays one long set and an encore), they played as if they’d been on the road together for months, a testament to their individual skill levels and their connection as a band.
The show itself was a winner from start to finish – the band dove deep into their catalogue, and broke out some songs that hadn’t been played very much the last few years. "Sugartown" doesn’t get nearly as much stage time as it used to, and it was phenomenal – Luther and Chew locked in with each other, each running up and down their fretboards in unison to build the song up before releasing the tension and dropping into "Po Black Maddie," which never disappoints. "Eyes," a song that the band beat the hell out of a few years back with the release of Polaris, also made a return – it used to be a setlist staple but kinda fell off the radar a little.
Like any hometown Allstars show, this one was a calvacade of guests. The City Champs’ Al Gamble spent a good chunk of the set on stage with the Allstars, and when Cody picked up his guitar on songs like "KC Jones" and "Goin’ Home," George Sluppick grabbed his drum sticks and joined in. Paul Taylor, who played bass with the Dickinsons in DDT (pre-Allstars), sat in during "On A Monday," and Garry Burnside sat in on guitar towards the end of the night – what kind of Memphis Allstars show would it be without the appearance of a Burnside or Kimbrough?
Above all, though, it was the Dickinson and Chew show. "Hear My Train A’ Comin’" was utterly monstrous, with Dickinson laying down some red-hot guitar work that would have made Hendrix proud, while his brother crushed his drum kit and Chew threw down some funky bass.
The band closed the set with "Mean ‘Ol Wind Died Down," a song that has become a vehicle of exploration for the band. By this point, it was amazing that the band had anything left in the tank, but they finished up strong.
The Allstars came out for a one song encore that had Luther and Chew seated on stools and Cody on washboard for an instrumental song that Chew called "a hillbilly jam that the band came up with during a soundcheck one night."
For a band who didn’t spend a ton of time on stage in 2010, the North Mississippi Allstars sure put on a stellar performance. With the Crowes on hiatus, Allstars fans can rest easy knowing that if there was any rust, it has been shaken off mightily, and good things are in store for 2011.