A feast of Hot Tuna! Extra helpings! Tuna leftovers!
These guys are making our job too easy – reissuing three CDs (yes, remastered and with bonus tracks) simultaneously. Japan is a larger portion of the February ’97 date, while the Sweetwater discs are expanded versions of the 1992 and ’93 releases from the intimate Mill Valley club (all originally on Relix).
The legendary band that began as a splinter group from Jefferson Airplane is 34 years old and still going strong. Undergoing numerous personnel changes and fluctuating in size and shape, its two constants have always been guitarist Jorma Kaukonen and bassist Jack Casady. They’ve had acoustic periods and electric incarnations, but, as Kaukonen explains in Japan‘s liner notes, at the tiny Stove’s club in Yokohama the quintet had no choice, since there was barely room for them let alone amps. They had to enter the packed room through a window behind the stage, and drummer Harvey Sorgen played a cardboard box since he couldn’t set up his kit.
The intimate, pressure-cooker atmosphere fueled an extraordinarily energetic show, and this edition offers a more complete picture of the proceedings, with three additional cuts – Mose Allison’s “Parchman Farm,” the gospel song “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed And Burning,” Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues,” and an instrumental rendition of the folk song “Follow The Drinking Gourd.” At any given time, as on Rev. Gary Davis’ “True Religion,” one player will take a cue from another, and before you know it it’s off to the races. Likewise, “Lamps” shifts from meditative to locomotive and back before you know what hit you.
The Sweetwater sets are subdued by comparison, but most anything would be. On the other hand, the sound quality is far richer and fuller than the Stove’s recording (which makes up for any sonic shortcomings in other ways).
The Sweetwater is a legendary club, and one that holds a special place in the hearts of Tuna fans – their many gigs there being the stuff of legend. Local (and some not local) friends usually show up, and the ’92 stint was no exception. A trio with multi-instrumentalist Michael Falzarano providing the third side of the triangle, they were joined by Maria Muldaur, Pete Sears (who was keyboardist in Japan), Happy Traum, and Bob Weir. Each volume includes four previously unreleased performances – “Trial By Fire” on Two being particularly nice.
Hot Tuna has always been at their best onstage, as these three discs amply evidence.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s April ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.