Hot Freakin' Tuna

Hot Tuna at the Cactus Cafe.

I wasn’t planning on it. But there I was sitting next to the soundboard at the Cactus Café Tuesday night. The SRO crowd was buzzing for the second Hot Tuna show of the night.

An acoustic show usually finds them at their best, allowing the rock legends to vibrate with a singular resonance. Jack Cassidy, Jorma Kaukonen, and MVP Barry Mitterhoff didn’t disappoint with a mix of Tuna classics like “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning” and a particularly languid “Hesitation Blues,” as well as a couple of tracks from Jorma’s latest solo effort, Stars in My Crown (Red House). Mitterhoff was quite impressive on a variety of stringed things, including mandolin, tenor guitar, banjo, and bazuki, and was allowed as much space as he wanted to explore the extended hypnotic grooves. Local bluesman Steve James was called up for a boisterous take of his “Saturday Night in Jail.”

“A force of nature if there ever was one,” Kaukonen exclaimed when James left the stage and the audience hooted their approval. It was a rare chance to get thisclose to Cassidy’s eyebrows dancing along to his basslines, Kaukonen’s dusky vocals and distinguished finger picking, and ensemble play that only comes with decades of shows together. The trio delighted with an encore of “Embryonic Journey,”Jorma’s notorious contribution to the Jefferson Airplane canon, done in a kind of walking blues mode, which left the crowd buzzing a whole lot more than they were when the music began.

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Jim Caligiuri, Aug. 29, 2012

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