ASHES AND DUST w/Chessboxer
Tower Theatre Upper Darby Pa • Oct. 2, 2015
By Barry Brandow • Photo by Phil Clarkin
Versatility. Versatility at the highest level.
The best and most accomplished musicians have it. If you were asked to spell “versatility” and you spelled it W-A-R-R-E-N H-A-Y-N-E-S, nobody would disagree. It’s one of the many words that accurately describes singer, songwriter, and guitarist Warren Haynes. Known mostly for his work with the Allman Brothers, Gov’t Mule, The Dead, Phil Lesh and Friends, and others, he has covered and performed an impressive arsenal of musical styles. The library of music that this guy has perfected is mind-blowing. From traditional and classic rock, to blues, jazz, country, funk, metal (listen to Mules version of Black Sabbaths “War Pigs”), and even rap (listen to him play “Forgot About Dre” with The Revivalists) he’s played it all. He’s also shared the stage with just about every band performing on the festival circuit. Not only does he impress the crowds with his talents, but he always makes those bands he’s playing with step up to a higher level (watch him play “Caberet” with Moon Taxi from Mountain Jam a few years ago). Those are just a few examples of his versatility off the top of my head. There are thousands.
Mr.Haynes, who is now sharing the stage with the progressive acoustic/blue grass band Chessboxer from Memphis during the current leg of his Ashes and Dust tour, made his way to his favorite residence in the Philadelphia Pa area: the Tower Theatre. Since the release of the top-selling album Ashes and Dust, originally recorded with the band Railroad Earth, Warren has been aggressively touring the country to loyal fans of all his work. The stop in Philly had a little extra flair as it was streamed live on Yahoo in its entirety. Both band and crowd were fired up to celebrate the latest musical masterpiece and the versatility of their favorite musician.
Originally Chris Stapleton was scheduled to be the opening support performer. When Chris cancelled, the progressive acoustic band Chessboxer stepped in and played a stellar set. It was cool to see them display their own talents with the focus on them. They are an extremely talented trio consisting of Matt Menefee on banjo, Ross Holmes on violin, Royal Masat on upright bass. Along with Royals brother Sterling Masat on mandolin and the ambitious drumming of Jeff Sipe, they complete the gifted quintet supporting Warren Haynes later tonight and during the tour.
The Ashes and Dust set started promptly at 8:45. The band and Mr. Haynes took their places with Warren taking his spot center stage. He approached the mic to greet the crowd and promised a special evening with a whole lot of surprises. Kicking things off with a few songs from Ashes and Dust, “Is It Me Or You,” “Beat Down The Dust,” and “Company Man,” it was very rewarding to see and hear Warren play in a forum most of us aren’t accustomed too. Although much of the focus was on him, it was equally rewarding to see every member of the band step up and take the spotlight just as often. You can appreciate the fine musicianship and the full spectrum of sound the six men produced with clarity and precision throughout the night. Also showing versatility, Chessboxer gave a little melodic blue grass flavor to a song most were familiar with in Gov’t Mules portfolio “Patchwork Quilt” before kicking things in high gear during Allman Brothers classic instrumental “Jessica.” Both had the crowd on their feet. The sound was incredible as each member traded leads. I’ve heard this song live at least a dozen times and it was really cool hearing it played with this unique instrumentation. The energy continued through the next song “Banks of the Deep End,” where Warren took to the forefront during one of Gov’t Mules signature classics.
It was at about this time in the show I felt a strong tug on my shirt sleeve. It was my wife, and in her best Arnold Schwarzenegger/Terminator voice said “Come with me if you want to live.” I’m no fool, so I went 5 rows forward to the front row, where there were two empty seats next to our friends Joe and Maureen. AWESOMENESS! Right in front of Mr. Haynes!
Keeping things mixed and fresh the show turned its focus back to the new release and played another block of songs from Ashes and Dust album. “Dusk Till Dawn,” “Coal Tattoo,” “Stranded in Self Pity,” and “Glory Road” again showed the bands and Warren’s great musicianship, songwriting, and showmanship, commonplace every time Warren and his fellow musicians take the stage. One of my favorite moments of the show was when the band broke into the ambitious jam-mazing classic tune “Instrumental Illness” and totally blew the roof off the historic Tower Theatre: each member again showcasing their musical chops and stepping into the spotlight to the overwhelming delight of the crowd. With all the frontline players getting their time to shine throughout the night it was time for virtuoso drummer Jeff Sipe to take his turn with an aspiring and enthusiastic solo of his own.
After the rest of the band returned to the stage, Warren adorning the 12 string, they played the Fleetwood Mac classic “Gold Dust Woman” that Warren has been noted for playing with songstress Grace Potter on occasion and also appears on the Ashes and Dust album. The next tune was dedicated to Little Feat legend Paul Barrere and a groovy and spirited version of Feats classic “Skin It Back” followed. Then, the jam morphed into the highly anticipated Allman Brothers classic “Blue Sky,” which all in attendance hoped would be coming. Warren blew the audience away as he had done so many times in every incarnation of this crowd pleasing classic. The orchestration Chessboxer provides complimented the arrangement remarkably. Everyone at the Tower sang along during the entire song. To close the set we were all treated to the most popular song from the Ashes and Dust collection. The song “Spots of Time,” which was originally written by Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, lyrically interpreted by Warren, and performed by Phil Lesh and Friends, was the perfect song to celebrate the amazing evening of music we were all lucky to witness live.
I always love when a band takes one of its most beloved songs and tweaks the arrangement. Mules cherished anthem “Soulshine” delighted us all with a unique swanky blue grass vibe– again the crowd harmonized at the top of its lungs. To end the show the song “Two Of A Kind,” originally written by Warren Haynes and famously covred by Country legend Garth Brooks, was the perfect way to end a fun night of brilliant music.
Yep…VERSATILIY! As a lover of all types of music I greatly appreciate and respect one of my favorite musicians stepping out of the box and exploring new things. It’s an absolute bonus when they can adapt with perfection. Even with his band Gov’t Mule last studio album he experimented by writing songs he thought would fit other artists, and had each fit like a glove to their musical styles. The music that Ashes and Dust has to offer is brilliantly written, arranged, and recorded. And when performed live it’s a treat for both eyes and ears. There is no limit to what Warren Haynes will do next. Whatever it is I know I’ll be there. For remaining date of the Ashes and Dust tour got to warrenhaynes.net