They may call themselves allstars, but casually strolling onto stage, breaking into their tunes before the crowd settles down, you'd think they're just another garage band playing yet another gig.
Some first impressions don't last long, I realized, seconds after the North Mississippi Allstars began their seemingly effortless two-hour solid blues jammin' session last Tuesday night at the Horseshoe Tavern.
The big, black bassist, Chris Chew, first caught my eye, sporting a green and white, number 9, football jersey. A gleeful smile permeated, permanently, across his face as he skillfully manipulated what looked like a dwarf's bass guitar, holding it up, arms bent, across his chest.
Lead singer/guitarist Luther Dickinson's smooth vocals soothed the audience, already irresistibly grooving and swaying, during the opening, Sitting on Top of the World, a blues standard.
"Hello, Toronto. We're so glad to be here," four-eyed Dickinson quirkily greeted the crowd. Without being center stage with a guitar and cool set of glasses, this guy could pass as a class nerd, but four chords in you know he's made of authentic rock n' roll.
Cut off Dickinson's hair into a Beatle's bob and give him contacts, and you've got brother and drummer, Cody Dickinson. Both are sons of the infamous, well-respected Memphis music producer, Jim Dickinson. So, these brothers began playing young, with the likes of the Replacements, New Gospel Choir, and Mojo Nixon by the time they were teenagers.
Drummer Dickinson led us into song two, Eyes, from the latest EP, Polaris, with a marching band roll out. I couldn't take my eyes off the second guitarist, Duwayne Burnside (Son of blue's giant R.L. Burnside, completing the Allstar evolution back in September 2001), captivating me with his alluring stoned glaze across the room, and occasional calm smile, revealing gleaming, gold teeth. He oozed relaxation, despite repetitive rapid rippling guitar riffs.
Half way through the set, Burnside and drummer Dickinson reversed roles, alluding to the multi-talents shared across the band. Though he took the spotlight for the next several songs, while Burnside did decently on drums, his vocals weren't as smooth, nor his eyes as captivating. But, his flare flourished with a high guitar riff harmony with his sibling; and, a bewildering, yet signature, washboard wail, replicating a rave-style club mix, enhanced with silver thimbles on his fingertips and the echoing effects of flanger, 'waw-waw' and delay pedals.
Leaving the audience tripped and tranced, the Allstars calmed it down, bringing it back to what sounds like traditional 'hill country' blues to me, though gospel, hardcore, punk rock, British rock, psychedelic pop, and MTV's latest are combined influences.
Bassist, Chew, took his stab at vocals in a happy, go lucky style; the 18-40 year old audience now jiving, one member flailing his arms and playing hopscotch amidst a circle of fans.
Toronto's fine weed and the Jack and Coke kept these allstars ambitious, playing one long set, instead of the two initially scheduled. It also probably prompted Burnside's reminiscent closing tune, dedicated to his brother.
Despite exceptional technical ability and talent, the Allstars keep it all about heart.
To get more in tune with the North Mississippi Allstars visit http://www.nmsallstars.com/.
Writer: Sophie Nicholls