Hot Tuna: Live last night

hot tuna

Live Last Night

By Dave McKenna

Hot Tuna's casually gorgeous Thursday set at the Birchmere opened with Jimmie Rodgers' 1928 tune, "Waiting on a Train," so Jorma Kaukonen sang about being "a thousand miles from home." Actually, Kaukonen and longtime music-mate Jack Casady, both proto-hippies and jam-band pioneers, grew up a George Washington stone's throw from the Alexandria club, and started playing together as schoolmates at Wilson High in D.C.

That's a rock-and-roll high school -- H.R., Henry Rollins, Ian MacKaye and Citizen Cope are also alums -- but Kaukonen and Casady got the party started by heading out west to join Jefferson Airplane. They founded Hot Tuna in 1969 as an acoustic side-project while Airplane was grounded by Grace Slick's health problems.

(Unplugged, but plenty spacey, after the jump.)

Tuna's current lineup is a trio with Kaukonen on guitar and vocals, Casady playing the most melodic basslines around, and Barry Mitterhoff fingering everything else found at a picking party -- banjo, mandolin, tenor guitar, etc. Even without electricity, these guys can set a spacey mood. They mostly avoided Airplane's songbook -- though Casady did throw out the opening riff to "White Rabbit" for giggles. The two-part, three-hour show was instead heavy with extended versions of traditional country-blues songs -- "Candy Man" and "Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning," both by Rev. Gary Davis. Fans roared after every laid-back jam.

Tuna's take on Merle Haggard's "More Than My Old Guitar" went over particularly well: "I love my guitar more than God loves the poor/But I love you even more," Kaukonen sang. Kaukonen mourned missing the recent 50-year reunion of his class at Wilson. "I had a gig," he explained. That's being true to your school.

By David Malitz |  December 4, 2009; 2:10 PM ET Live Last Night
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