Billy & the Kids made their San Francisco debut on Saturday April 9, 2016 with a performance at The Warfield Theater with The Greyboy Allstars supporting. The previous night was Billy & the Kids’ first show in northern California, as Bob Weir joined the gang up at Bob’s Mill Valley venue Sweetwater Music Hall, an event that certainly dominated conversation amongst the concertgoers in advance of the show. With show time the approaching crowd was filling in and those that were there were ready to go by 8PM. Karl Denson and his SoCal funk squad got the night off to a blazing start, running through a full repertoire of West Coast Boogaloo. B3 Hammond organ extraordinaire Robert Walter delighted the crowd with a variety of rave-ups, guitarist Elgin Park showed some chops with a variety of high-energy solos and steady guitar support, and Chris Stillwell on bass and Aaron Redfield on drums held the pocket throughout.
The end of the Greyboy Allstars opening set gave way to a quick stage change and room was cleared for Billy & the Kids. This night was highlighted in advance with the addition of Eric Krasno (Soulive, Lettuce) on guitar throughout the evening. His playing style compliments Tom Hamilton (Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, American Babies) incredibly well in this setting and offers additional flexibility with both his guitar and his vocals to the already dynamic four-piece in the Grateful Dead/JGB/Jerry-extended catalogue. The rest of the band includes the indomitable Reed Mathis (Tea Leaf Green, Golden Gate Wingmen) on bass and vocals, the always experimental Aron Magner (Disco Biscuits, Conspirator) on keys and vocals, and the legendary Bill Kreutzman (Grateful Dead) on drums. The 95-year old, 2,300-person theater was at about 2/3 capacity, but those in attendance were about ready to explode by the time Billy & the Kids took the stage.
Billy & the Kids shows are known for their daring takes on some less frequently played tunes within the Jerry/Dead catalogue and tonight would be no different. Mathis got the evening started with the calling card thumps of “Ramble on Rose” featuring Hamilton on vocals. Next up was a regular staple originally with Jerry Garcia & Merl Saunders and later with the Jerry Garcia Band, a touching and meticulously executed version of Smoke Robinson’s “I Second that Emotion”. Out of the ashes arose a spacey “Feel Like a Stranger” as the last chorus gave way to a little first-set space segment before coming back to earth to close the song out. “Stranger” gave way to a popping blues-traditional “Sitting on Top of the World” that seamlessly slipped into a fun take on the Johnny Cash original “Big River”. The first set concluded after “Eyes of the World”, which also featured a distant, spacey interlude, transitioned right into the Dead classic “Bertha”.
After a lengthy set-break, the boys got right back into rhythm in a set that would feature multiple debuts for the band, carrying the rockabilly theme from the first set on into the second set with a rollicking rendering on the one-man band Jesse Fuller’s “Beat it on Down the Line”, complete with Magner, Krasno, and Hamilton all taking solos during the jam. The opening notes to “Estimated Prophet” were met with an uproarious response from the crowd, and the song gave way to a short but sweet “The Music Never Stopped”, which then slipped into the “Drums” > “Space” segment of the show. Seeing Billy solo during “Drums” brought back imagines of the Dead’s “Drums” during the ’72 – ’74 period and Billy proved he was obviously more than up to the task. After the psychedelic session had concluded, the band emerged from the chaos to take on perhaps the most challenging piece of the night in “Mission in the Rain”. Hamilton did a remarkable job vocally on the song, but that did not overshadow the patient guitar interplay between Hamilton and Krasno, as the crowd showered the band with expected appreciation as a rising cheer arose during the apropos words “There’s some satisfaction in the San Francisco rain”. Fittingly, the band took us to space one more time after the beautiful “Mission” before coming home to land with their takes on “Terrapin Station” and “One More Saturday Night”. After a short break, the band returned for a 2-song encore starting with a tribute to the recently passed Merle Haggard in playing “Mama Tried”, then impeccably segueing into “Brokedown Palace” and offering the crowd to “Fare Thee Well” and “Listen to the river sing sweet songs, to rock my soul”.
The crowd concluded the show on their feet in a show of appreciation for the 5-piece’s performance, and the band returned to the stage following the encore to take a collective bow as they were showered with applause and cheers. The crowd quickly receded as the house lights returned, concertgoers moving throughout the historic lobby as people took pictures next to the images of some of their favorite musicians on the wall or picked up some of the remaining merchandise from the merch table, and flooded out onto the Market St. sidewalk and then filtered back into the drizzly San Francisco night.
Ramble on Rose (TH), I Second That Emotion* (EK, RM), Feel Like a Stranger (AM), Sitting on Top of the World (All) > Big River (RM), Eyes of the World (TH) > Bertha (TH)
Beat it on Down the Line* (RM), Estimate Prophet (RM) > The Music Never Stopped* (TH) > Drums > Space > Mission in the Rain* (TH) > Terrapin Station* (TH), One More Saturday Night (AM)
Mama Tried (RM) > Brokedown Palace (TH)
* First Time Played