Legends Lounge

-Jump For Joy -

Legendary San Francisco band Kingfish combines blues, country rock and trippy psychedelia to hypnotize the neon city

by Lee Abraham

White spots from the spinning mirror ball swirl against the brightly colored tie-dye tapestries surrounding the stage. Honey dipped tones of a pedal steel guitar float above the open road blues rhythm pulsing from the bass and drums. Playful boogie woogie piano and the gritty passion of a harmonica weave in and out of a polytextured melodic exploration as a dance floor of gleeful groovemeisters shimmy and shake with the music's irresistible groove.

"I'm among friends," said Matt Kelly, smiling from the stage. "This is fun!" Touring in support of the band's first studio album in over 20 years, "Sun Down on the Forest," Kelly and the rest of the band were clearly enjoying the intimate and cozy confines of Legends Lounge. And so were the fans. Although not a sell-out, those gathered on this Wednesday night responded to Kingfish's stellar jams with a spirited intensity. More like a party among family than a show in a nightclub, everyone knew that this was going to be a night to remember.

Kicking off the set on the upbeat with the good time, shuffling blues instrumental, "Juke," Kingfish then amplified the dancing momentum by following up with a rousing version of "I Know You Rider," a traditional song popularized by the Grateful Dead. Jenni Muldaur, who sings on "Sun Down on the Forest," was on hand for the show, adding her evocative and silky smooth voice to the already potent ensemble.

Taking the lead early in the set on "Burning in my Heart," Muldaur's vocals flowed with a delightful and effortless grace. Her serene, zen-like in-the-music stage presence had the room mesmerized. Longtime Kingfish family member, songwriter and producer, Bill Cutler, also joined the band for several tunes during the night. Hopping on stage for the Kingfish gem "Jump For Joy," Cutler was in fine form helping out with the vocals.

Seeing Cutler on stage with Kelly and all the others, each in their own way a pioneer in America's musical counter-culture, was a joyful event. Kingfish's contributions to the community that is often referred to as the Grateful Dead's extended family was not lost on the knowledgeable fans gathered at Legends. There was a lot of love and respect in the room throughout the evening.

The ten song first set closed with an open throttle, Bo Diddly flavored "Mona" that had the house rockin'. Second set highlights included a soulful, gospel tinged "Every Little Light," which Kelly dedicated to the memory of Jerry Garcia. Featuring warm, heartfelt harmonies and gently bittersweet solos from Kelly on harp and Barry Sless on pedal steel, this was an emotional, moving tune. Cutler's lead vocals on, "Goodbye Yer Honor" put a charge into the country rock classic that inspired some of the more animated dancing of the night. Syncopated rhythms of Mike Sugar on bass and drummer Vince Littleton, mixed with the New Orleans boogie woogie piano of Mookie Siegel on the sing-a-long swamp wiggle, "Iko Iko," cooked up a hot and funky gumbo midway into the set.

Strapping on a guitar for a "Ridin' High," Cutler again took the stage for "Ridin' High," one of his many compositions that have become woven into the fabric of American music over the past few decades. "Hypnotize," with its jazzy, breeze-blowing-through- your-hair sense of movement and adventure, was the perfect capper to this evening of wonderfully played, carefully crafted and highly enjoyable music.

During the most intense psychedelic jamming of the night, all the players were -on-, but it was Barry Sless, particularly during the second set, with his masterfully phrased solos on guitar and pedal steel, that took the improvisational interactions of the band to that special place where the music articulates thoughts unspoken. Where time stops and the moment is all that matters. Such was the case at Legends Lounge on Wednesday night. Without a doubt, this was a night for the ages.