This past weekend, Grammy award winning guitarist Eric Krasno set out on a coast-to-coast, two-week tour to promote his latest creation Always. Released on February 4th, this second solo endeavor is packed full of the quality compositions and visceral voyages that Krasno is recognized for in the studio as well as the live setting. Utilizing the same talent summoned for the studio production, Krasno has hit the road with The Assembly, a band he introduced to the world for the first-time last summer, comprised of Always co-producer Otis McDonald on the bass, Wil Blades on organ and keyboards, James VIII on guitar, and Curtis Kelly on drums. As nothing beats the Rocky Mountain high, Washington’s in Fort Collins, Colorado was the setting for the tour opener and as if catching Krasno with a pocketful of new pieces wasn’t enough, the inaugural evening promised more talent in the co-billing of east coast R&B performer Son Little.
Those who showed for the evening’s festivities were given a three hour, three set progressive slow burn that delivered on a host of originals, a few covers, and a continual shifting of genres that kept the audience engaged and entertained from start to finish.
Getting things started, James VIII opened the show solo, a man and his electric guitar, for a handful of his well-crafted originals that echoed with the sounds of Detroit, the blues, and good ol’ rock and roll. Although his boyish good looks might have caused some to doubt his talent, by the end of his four-song set, it was apparent that an old soul embodied his being as he channeled the Delta dynamic way past his corporeal age.
Son Little took the stage alone to open set two and treated the audience to a mini-acoustic set, including originals “Letter Bound” and “Suffer,” while also including a cover of Bob Dylan’s “You’re A Big Girl Now”. At the end of the trifecta, those who had placed their bet on this work horse were rewarded further with the introduction of The Assembly, as they took their appropriate positions and lent their support to even more of Little’s repertoire. The rest of the 20-song set pulled equally from Little’s discography and gave first time listeners the opportunity to take in the breadth of this man’s creativity. Although Little stated that this night was the first attempt at utilizing The Assembly as his backing band, the group moved and grooved in and out of the tunes, both musically and vocally, as though they had been a regular gig for quite some time.
After a short intermission, the main event was finally up for the evening. Krasno stepped to the mic and thanked everyone for coming out and took a moment to mention how Son Little was one of his favorite singers of all time. He also added that not only was this the tour opener, but the first show and tour for these musicians in over a year, and that they were all truly excited to be playing for the good people of northern Colorado.
The set got going with the funk fest that is “Good Thing” off of the new record. The group wasted no time in jumping in with both feet and getting those around to participate in the get down. With the audience carrying wide smiles, Krasno ushered in another new track in the slow groove of “Silence.” Pulling from his 2016 release Blood from a Stone, fan favorite “Jezebel” strutted her stuff all over that stage. This one contained great organ work from Blades and some signature shredding from Krasno.
“On the Rise” took a softer approach and highlighted great harmonies from the band. With a meandering path, this soulful tune had the room swaying, looped in on the group spiritual ascension.
“Torture,” as the third consecutive Blood piece, reflected what a great album his first solo endeavor is. This bluesy choice with its tribal thunder shook the room and at its apex segued perfectly into the Hendrix tune “Power of Soul,” which just kept the note-bending shred fest barrage going.
The instrumental “Curse Lifter” was up next. Its Allman-esque vibe was just as sweet as the peach tree it is derived from. James VIII and Krasno played off of each other in perfect complimentary fashion while the rest held the framework together, the piece reaching dizzying heights for both listener and performer and resulting in audible “thanks for coming to Fort Collins” at its close.
Pulling again from the new album, the fresh funk of “Lost Myself” shifted the mood from ethereal spin to swagger stride and the dance party was back on.
The second cover of the set came in the form of “Man in Me,” a Bob Dylan cover from Mr. Zimmerman’s 1970 release New Morning, that also appears on Krasno’s Always. As expected, Krasno and Crew did the tune justice while also making it their own, giving its original honky tonk quality a Motown soul makeover. Blades took the audience to church with an over-the-top organ solo fit for any Sunday morning service.
“Leave Me Alone” would be the last selection off the new album for the night. The upbeat blues theme got the room moving to its gritty hook and had this listener unable to get enough of the new album.
“Please Ya” bathed the audience in emotion, starting off slow and wide, and peaking at its end with whole of the group participating in some fantastic vocal work, eliciting unrelenting cat calling from the floor as the tune drew to a close. With its final acapella notes trailing off, the musical director jumped the congregation into the final sermon of the set with “Unconditional Love.” Taking the love higher, the group gave it their all in this big finish and left the crowd dazed and infused with good vibes, demonstrated by visible laughter, smiles, and applause as the band left the stage.
For the encore, Krasno welcomed Son Little back to close out the evening with a one-two punch. First up was a cover of The Beatles’ “Don’t Let Me Down,” with Little taking the vocal lead and encouraging the room to sing along. The second selection was a cover of Robert Palmer’s “Sneakin’ Sally through the Alley” and although it was not stretched the way Phish do it, this version was certainly no slouch and had everyone moving from the opening notes to its close.
In the end, those who turned out for the first night of the tour were gifted the chance to catch up and coming talent in James the 8th, immerse themselves in the under-the-radar gift of big sound that is Son Little, and have first dibs at the new inspirations created by the fluid fingered mastery and production talent of Eric Krasno. It was also great to realize that only five of the ten tracks of the new album were played, leaving plenty more for tour stops to come and giving way to the promise of an evolving setlist for this tour rather than a canned event night after night.
The talent that is The Assembly must also be mentioned and certainly did not go unnoticed. Otis McDonald, aka Joe Bagale, plays deep in the pocket, whether imitating the slow pull of molasses or the engine of a charging train pulling it all off the rails, this man commands the low end.
Drummer Curtis Kelly is one of those talented gentlemen who cannot only stir the soup tastefully and without wear, but sing while doing it. His talent in the higher registry was exceptional and contributed to the overall feel of the music throughout the evening. His talent on the kit and mic were only rivaled by his noticeable over-the-top enthusiasm while doing it all.
Chairman of the Boards Wil Blades kept the whole room swirling for the evening, washing the crowd and tunes in waves of Hammond / Leslie liquid magic. He carried with him a stoic face and let his fingers and soul do the talking as those around him could not do anything but listen to him fill the room with eargastic ecstasy.
James VIII, aka James Dawson, certainly held his own from his opening set to the close of the evening. Demonstrating equal talent in rhythm and lead and lending a great contribution on vocals, it was clear to hear why the veteran Krasno would pull this young buck to join him on the road and it was great to see him being present in every moment, devoid of squander or afterthought.