The soulful singer/guitarist, most well known as a longtime member of the Allman Brothers Band, has spent years touring relentlessly with not only the Allmans, but also his own Southern rock band, Gov't Mule, the Dead, Phil Lesh and Friends and the Warren Haynes Band, which stopped at the Pageant on Tuesday night.
I had never seen the Warren Haynes Band, although I've seen Warren play in his other incarnations many times, so I was excited to experience another side of his vast musical talents. Coming in at number 23 on Rolling Stone's list of the Top 100 Greatest Guitar Players of All Time, Haynes' vocal skills are impressively equal to his abilities on the guitar. It's rare to see an artist so extremely adept at both. The tone of his voice is rich and soulful, lending itself easily to nearly any genre. He is known for doing unexpected covers of everyone from Prince to Nirvana to U2.
The band took the stage about 30 minutes late, but the crowd instantly forgot about the time as they launched into a groovy "Man in Motion," the title track from Haynes' new solo album. With an uplifting sound rooted more in soul and gospel than the hard driving rock and roll of Gov't Mule, Haynes drew everyone in through his wailing guitar, powerful voice and a backing band every bit his equal including keyboardist Nigel Hall (sporting a Cardinals baseball cap), drummer Terence Higgins, sax player Ron Holloway, funky bassist Ron Johnson and standout backup vocalist Alfreda Gerald.
In a smoking hot first set, the Warren Haynes Band jammed on other cuts from the new album including timely "River's Gonna Rise," "Your Wildest Dreams," an emotional ballad with a classic soul vibe, and sax-laden "Take a Bullet" (including a mini-jam of Stevie Wonder's "I Wish").
Haynes' musical timing is excellent, every note perfectly in its place, punctuated effortlessly. He gave an amazing guitar solo during "Blue Radio," shredding with eyes closed tight, and another woven into the funky Gov't Mule tune "Tear Me Down."
After a brief set break, Haynes returned to the stage alone for a special acoustic set. These songs truly highlighted his voice, but sadly the Pageant isn't an easy place to carry a solo acoustic set. With the chatter, movement and background noise, it was difficult to appreciate fully something that intimate. And although he sounded great, it was harder to get into after the energy of the first set, which left the crowd (especially on the dance floor) wanting more.
After a few more introspective tunes, we were rewarded with the return of the full band and some heavy cuts from Haynes' first solo album, Tales of Ordinary Madness, including the hard-driving "Fire in the Kitchen," "I'll Be the One" (with teaser of Allman Brothers classic "Blue Sky,") and inspiring "Broken Promised Land," Foster providing angelic vocal assistance. After Haynes and Foster literally "faced off" on guitar and vocals, everyone in the house was beyond satisfied.
Just when it seemed there couldn't be anything left to top it off, the band returned to the stage after a momentary break for an encore of Haynes' most renowned song, "Soulshine," a staple at most of his shows. This time it carried a sweet, uplifting, gospel-meets-reggae vibe -- a great ending to an incredible evening of live music.
Correction: The review originally cited Ruthie Foster on backup vocals. The singer was Alfreda Gerald.