The selling point this past year of The Warren Haynes Band has been its preference for vintage soul and R&B over the heavier jams and blues-based guitar workouts usually favored by the group’s leader and namesake instrumentalist. And for roughly one-third of its tireless two set, three hour-plus performance last night at Buster’s, you could buy into that premise.
With the bright harmony singing of Alecia Chakour and the equally summery saxophone colors of Ron Holloway at his side, Haynes conjured images of B.B. King-style blues (between the wah-wah sections that were entirely Haynes’ design) during On a Real Lonely Night and sleek Memphis soul (nicely mutated by Haynes with a touch of Santana-like psychedelia) for River’s Gonna Rise.
But the thrust of this often riotous performance was soul-stirred more by mood and attitude than stylistic execution. It was refreshing, to be sure, to witness Haynes in a visibly lighter frame of stage mind last night than he often is during the more purposely strident instrumental play he engages in with his two more visible performance groups – his own Gov’t Mule and the long-running Allman Brothers Band.
But Haynes made no pretensions last night about being a purist of any style. As such, the show’s most arresting moments came when the guitarist threw tradition to the wind and let soul, blues and funk references play into and off each other.
Perhaps the most adventurous bit of musical gumbo came during the 15 minute Invisible, which opened with shards of fragmented funk colored by tasty unison guitar and sax lines. But by the midway point, the jams turned so jazzy that the resulting groove sounded remarkably like the volcanic crescendo of the 1976 Weather Report gem Gibralter.
The second set delved more deeply into cover material, opening with a faithful reading of Little Feat’s Southern fried Sailin’ Shoes that shed its boogie-centric skin so Chakour could ignite Baby Love. But the killer was Steely Dan’s Pretzel Logic, which opened with a Rhodes-style keyboard melody from Nigel Hall that stayed true to the song’s inherent blues sway until it took a serious detour through a New Orleans-spiced drum solo from Terence Higgins.
Add in a barnstorming set one version of the R&B nugget Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home and you had an evening where soul inspirations thrived but the dominate sounds – all ripe with funk, fun and fusion – bore a craftiness in design that no single style could contain.