Review and photos by Seth Rogovoy
(HUDSON, N.Y.) – The North Mississippi Allstars did a brave thing on Sunday night at Club Helsinki Hudson. They brought along a blues duo opening act called Lightnin Malcolm and Stud, which may well have set the bar impossibly high for them to follow and top. Furthermore, when the Dickinson brothers, Luther and Cody, who are the only permanent members of the North Mississippi Allstars, took the stage, they brought along Malcolm with them as a bassist, occasional guitarist and guest vocalist, with a few cameo appearances by Stud, which only emphasized how Malcolm is a more dynamic vocalist and frontman than Luther Dickinson, and how Stud, reportedly only 15 years old and the grandson of blues legend T Model Ford, is a prodigiously talented, versatile and funky drummer – perhaps more so than Cody, who sticks to a pretty straightforward approach that rarely takes the music into deep funk territory.
The Allstars played a generous three-hour set that consisted of original Southern blues and boogie rock and connected the not-so-far-apart-to-begin-with dots between the Allman Brothers, the Grateful Dead and Eric Clapton; as one fan next to me boasted, “I’m best friends with the drummer from moe., and I just saw [Grateful Dead offshoot band] Ratdog on Friday night in Burlington,” which pretty much summed up the fans and the vibe of the show, for better or worse, at Helsinki. In a single phrase, Luther Dickinson could evoke Duane Allman, Dickey Betts, Jerry Garcia, Bob Weir, and Clapton – he’s a deft guitarist, a bit of a laid-back vocalist, and the group doesn’t do much with dynamics – it’s basically an onslaught of sound, perhaps the better to allow the crowd to blend with the physicality of the music. There was a definitively Dead vibe to the show, in the way the group would change direction mid-song, rhythms collapsing ontop of each other, extended soloing, and even a lengthy, percussion-oriented “space jam.”
With their minimalist attack, however, Lightnin Malcom and Stud were a musical delight, and surprise making every note, phrase, and rhythm count precisely and bounce around while swinging seemingly without effort. While on the surface they stuck to a menu of boogie-blues, Stud’s colorful drumming and Malcolm’s easygoing vocal phrasing made for a swinging approach that was a unique fusion of blues primitivism with R&B, funk and even jazz. Stud had a loose approach to his kit that connected New Orleans parade music to disco, and Malcolm made his guitar seem like a toy as he used it as a bass, rhythm and lead instrument, often seemingly impossibly at the same moments. He was a confident, genial frontman, and in his turns at the mic with the North Mississippi Allstars, their set got an extra jolt of caffeine.