Warren Haynes wasn’t much for words last night at the Lexington Opera House. But prior to the last number of a stylistically restless two and a half hour performance, he told a story about his one and only experience playing the Grand Ole Opry. The recollection tied into a finale version of Two of a Kind (Working on a Full House), a 1991 charttopping hit for Garth Brooks. Haynes explained how a befuddled Nashville fan asked him why he was playing “a Garth song.” The guitarist’s reply was succinct. “Because I wrote it.” Then came the footnote explaining why the 1987 tune was being resurrected on Haynes’ current tour.
“So we can do it a little differently.”
With that, what was once a dose of pop-savvy honky tonk morphed into a blues romp with Haynes’ sweaty guitar lines leading a loose, rootsy charge. That was essentially the game plan for the entire evening. Haynes utilized a progressive Nashville string troupe called ChessBoxer for a largely acoustic/Americana backdrop. To that he added drummer Jeff Sipe, a wildly resourceful veteran of numerous jam bands (the Aquarium Rescue Unit being perhaps the most noted) who provided a flexible and often jazz-like sensibility to the music. Then there was Haynes himself, a solidly electric player who shifted gears regularly according the emotive and stylistic whims of the material.
That proved to be an unending task. While Haynes is still touring in support of his fine 2015 solo album, Ashes & Dust, the concert was a essentially a career retrospective covering favorites and obscurities from his lengthy tenures in the Allman Brothers Band (Blue Sky, a revamped Jessica and a wonderful, swing-savvy Instrumental Illness that revolved as much around Royal Massat’s rolling bass lines as Haynes’ leads), his own guitar rich Gov’t Mule band (the mournful odes Banks of the Deep End and No Consolation), the Grateful Dead spinoff unit Phil Lesh and Friends (the Jerry Garcia remembrance Patchwork Quilt) and a few choice covers (a riotous groove-savvy take on Little Feat’s Skin it Back, a suitably cryptic view of Radiohead’s Karma Police and a harmony-heavy encore of the spiritual Angel Band that bled into a slower, more solemn recasting of the Haynes favorite Soulshine). The Ashes & Dust material, however, certainly set the stage for such time tripping, from Sipe’s jazzy underpinning and Haynes’ hearty slide guitar colors during the show opening Is It Me or You to the coal mining requiem Coal Tattoo that hammered down the often spacious fusion runs by the full company into sheets of sobering, earthy cool.