Written by Bill Whiting
Photos by Scott Preston
Hot Tuna’s return to the sold out 20th Century Theater on March 15 in Cincinnati, Ohio was a triumphant one. Supporting their great long player, Steady As She Goes(one of 2011’s best), Jorma Kaukonen, Jack Casady and Barry Mitterhoff took the stage, and picked up their acoustic guitars. Tuna could actually be called the spiritual godfathers of the unplugged genre. 1970’s Hot Tuna album set the standard with a winning mix of acoustic blues and folk standards. Reaching back to that project, the trio broke out early in the first set with a vibrant reworking of “Hesitation Blues.” Jorma, Jack and Barry switched up the smooth rhythms and peaceful vibes, giving the 20th Century’s patrons a heaping taste of Steady As She Goes on the gently swaying “Children of Zion” and the wistful ballad, “Second Chances.” Indeed, it was a full meal with all the trimmings, and Hot Tuna continued the easy rocking flow by breaking out fan favorites, “Barbeque King” and “99 Year Blues.” Jorma Kaukonen tapped into his solo work with a riveting take on the title track from 2009’s River of Time recording. A mind blowing end to the first half of the show ensued as the band coalesced around an extended and involving improvisational passage during the classic number, “I Know You Rider.” Hot Tuna had a natural give and take with their Cincinnati audience, and the storytelling banter between songs made for a very intimate and rewarding experience. The tone shifted a bit in the second set, but the Steady As She Goes charmer, “Things That Might Have Been” provided a showcase for Mitterhoff’s mandolin string bending expertise. Casady’s booming and bluesy bass lines colored the smoking grooves of the tightly jamming composition, “Goodbye to the Blues.” A reminder of the past proved to be the genuine gem of the night as Kaukonen, Casady and Mitterhoff locked in for an extended run through the instrumentally inspired peaks and valleys of the masterpiece, “Good Shepherd.” Winding down the evening with “I Am the Light of This World,” Hot Tuna had the denizens on the floor following each lyric and musical passage. Returning to a standing ovation, Hot Tuna encored with the powerful and timeless notes of “Water Song.” It was a deeply moving end to a richly layered and brilliantly paced concert, one of the best in the tri state area in a long time. One hopes that Hot Tuna will “Keep On Truckin’,” and find their way back again to Cincinnati in the near future.
Set One: True Religion, Hesitation Blues, Children of Zion, Second Chances, Let Us Get Together Right Down Here, Barbeque King, Sea Child, Another Man Done a Full Go Round, 99 Year Blues, River of Time, I Know You Rider
Set Two: I See The Light, Nobody Knows You When You’re Down and Out, Come Back Baby, Goodbye to the Blues, Things That Might Have Been, Winin’ Boy Blues, Good Shepherd, Bread Line Blues, Vicksburg Stomp, I Am The Light Of This World, Nine Pound Hammer
Encore: Water Song