North Mississippi All-Stars

Howlin' Wolf

October 24, 2006

I've seen the North Mississippi All-Stars before, but I've never been as impressed of them as I was Tuesday night at The Howlin' Wolf. Probably because last time I saw them they performed an acoustic set and the time before I was uninitiated and far from the stage at Jazzfest.

This time I was right under guitarist Luther Dickinson on stage right. It was such a treat to see this modern day Van Halen or Vaughn go nutso on the guitar but always arrive back in time for prescribed hooks. Luther loved his solos, but there were always preset accents that drummer Cody Dickinson and bassist/vocalist Chris "Big" Chew would reign him back in with.

I've never seen the band so tight, and that's saying something. They've always been known for road-tested synchronicity. They started their tour last night, and apparently, they've had one weekend off in the last four months. Chew might as well have been a brother to the Dickinson's. That's how well they all meshed. There was a big vibe of confidence coming from the stage, a very take-no-prisoners attitude, especially from Luther. This man was out to prove something. Just when you thought he'd let up, he kept soloing, but it was never cumbersome because Luther's playing was always tasteful and accompanied by cymbal blasts.

Cody was sick, too. Especially when he employed two kick drums at once. No matter how rockin' the band got, they somehow retained their blues and roots feel. I headbanged, but I never felt anger, maybe like I would at a metal concert. This was just a matter of the groove being so strong.

So, what is the connection between Van Halen, the NMAS's, and Pantera? They all have or had brother-to-brother drummer to guitarist relationships. And that's why all three are bulletproof. I've always felt that the reason Pantera brought such force was because Vinnie and Dimebag synched up so often. Same goes for the Dickinson's. When Luther complemented Cody's snare hits with the exact number of notes played on his guitar, pure joy came out of the music.

The band played a long, no-frills set. Luther barely talked, and the band went from one song to the next quickly, often connecting them like it wadn't no thang.

I have to admit I had a moment last night. The music made me think that if people don't believe in God, they've got music. And that God is in music, too, so there you go. And that maybe dark music is just a way of God trying to relate to us. I don't know.

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