Warren Haynes featuring The Ashes & Dust Band (Jeff Sipe & ChessBoxer)

Saturday 21st November 2015

St John’s Smith Square, London, United Kingdom

Warren doesn’t say a lot on stage tonight. What he does do is deliver over two hours of lively roots music, some on acoustic guitar with five multi-instrumental cohorts who know exactly what they are doing with their instruments.

Three of the ensemble open the show as the ChessBoxer playing backwoods banjo, mournful violin and pulsing standup bass along with harmony vocals here and there. It’s bluegrass and I don’t enjoy it at all. Though the trio is politely received.

Once in the WH band which promotes the fine Ashes & Dust album – see my detailed chat with Haynes on this site – these three play their hearts out as part of the six on stage. We knew we wouldn’t be getting a Govt mule style set and that this woud be much more in the Americana vein. The venue is tucked away south of Westminster and Big Ben on the north side of the Thames but is rather similar to the lovely Cadogan Hall at the top of the Kings Road, not quite so good acoustics. A restaurant in what was the crypt (?) hosts the well-heeled before the heads arrive, plenty of Allmans and Dead t shirts on display plus the odd bandana.

With a heady mix of mainly electric bass, crisp drums, violin, mandolins, banjos and other guitarists, Warren uses a Les Paul most of the time, pouring out fluid solo’s when it suits and incorporating slide runs, in standard tuning. He sings well and even gives a few song titles. The styles are folk, country, neo-Appalachian, club blues, semi-gospel and as a highlight for this scribe, a splendid funk take on Little Feat’s kin It Back. The Ashes material is touching and tenderly put over, especially ‘Company Man’. Haynes is showing us where he comes from and it ain’t just rock/ blues. None of this would fit in a Govt Mule set, for sure. It seems very much a Bob Harris show audience, overall , with many couples and groups of friends – the kind who get out once in a while, buy albums and apparel and (mostly) don’t talk through the show. These musicians – Railroad Earth – work hard at getting songs in motion and take solo’s whenever nodded. The last night of a tour, the band lack nothing in dynamics and Warren doesn’t have to do any barking or pointing. I would hope that this performance and its reception found favour with him, It would be merited.

Sometimes the keening violin sounds a tad like The Flock, which does suit the setlist. ‘Me on You’ has a weighty tempo, emphasised by the Dave Mattacks style drumming. What really comes across, as the crew coast into another exciting Charlie Daniels Band type instrumental excursion, is just how good Warren Haynes is at backing other players, getting the best out of them. The template cat for this is Tom Petty of course, but Haynes ain’t far behind. Sometimes he taps in a Leslie effect behind the mandolin or fiddle and it just sounds so rich and so subtle. He throws in ‘Jessica’ towards the end, pleasing the crowd and getting the toes tapping. And no curmudgeon Clarksons in sight….

Pete Sargeant

Warren Haynes’s new album ‘Ashes & Dust’ featuring Railroad Earth is out now on Provogue Records/Mascot Label Group. For more information visit: http://www.warrenhaynes.net/