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Live Review
R.L. Burnside and Robert Cage
@ The Chili Pepper, Coconut Grove, FL, Jan. 16, 1999
By Dave "Doc" Piltz
R.L. Burnside and Robert Cage are residents of the Mississippi Delta and two of the leaders of the continuing renaissance of the Mississippi Hill Country blues. This renaissance turned Burnside and Cage, and others such as T-Model Ford, Hezekiah Early, Elmo Williams and the late Junior Kimbrough, from men who spent their days working and their nights playing blues in Mississippi juke joints into nationally touring blues evangelists. Given the starkness and no-frills simplicity of their lives, it seemed strange to be sitting at a techno-dance club in Coconut Grove, Florida to see these two important forces in the "deep blues" brought to light by blues historian Robert Palmer.

Robert Cage opened the three hour blues show at The Chili Pepper with an hour long set that included all of the songs from his first recording on Fat Possum records, Robert Cage Knows What You're Doing. Cage began his set solo with "Instrumental #5" and "Liza Jane," from his album. He was then joined on drums by Cedric Burnside, R.L.'s grandson, for the remainder of the set which included an interesting rendition of Leadbelly's "Goodnight Irene" and covers of songs by everyone from Jimmy Reed ("Let It Roll") to Chuck Berry ("Little Queenie"). Cage displayed a great deal of enthusiasm during his set that would have been infectious in any juke in Mississippi. Unfortunately, the audience at The Chili Pepper was lukewarm, although I personally got into the classic Mississippi electric blues sound and the juke joint feel that it offered.

After a short break, during which I marveled at the incredible diversity of lifestyles represented by the crowd, R.L. Burnside took the stage with his band that included R.L.'s grandson, Cedric Burnside, on drums and "adopted grandson," Kenny Brown, on slide guitar. From the beginning of the 90+ minute set, Burnside and company set out to pull the crowd in with the throbbing beat of their "hypno-boogie." Typical Burnside fare included the rhythmic, repetitive sound that one would expect to permeate any of the nondescript on the outside, electric on the inside, clubs that dot the Mississippi countryside. Although it took the crowd a little while longer to realize it, Burnside plays the real, original dance music of the rural South. Believe me, if you can't dance to this, you need to check your vital signs quickly because you might be dead already! None of the looping or other special effects found on Burnside's latest recording, Come On In, were to be found on this Saturday night, only the pure sounds that one might find on some of Burnside's other recordings, such as Acoustic Stories or Too Bad Jim. In between songs, Burnside shared a few stories of his life and provided some interesting Mississippi humor.

There were two other interesting occurrences during Burnside's set. First was the brief guest appearance of local harp player and recently signed Sanachie recording artist, Grady Champion for a single song. The second was hearing Burnside play two songs, "Whiskey and Wimmen" and "Walkin' Blues," without his backup band. Both songs were very well done and represented one of the highlights of the set. Songs from several of Burnside's albums were offered during the performance. Among those included were "Fireman Ring The Bell," "Goin' Down South," "Come On In," "Let My Baby Ride," "Rollin' & Tumblin'" and "Get High." One other song entitled, "Old Folks Boogie," included not one, but two drum solos by Cedric Burnside.

By the time Burnside completed his two encore numbers, the dance floor was packed with sweating, gyrating dancers who finally realized that what they were hearing was the ultimate in dance music. The chance for Twin Citians to dance to the hypnotic groove of R.L. Burnside will occur on March 22, when Burnside appears with Elmo Williams at First Avenue in downtown Minneapolis. I suggest you wear your dancin' shoes and get ready to boogie!

This review is copyright © 1999 by Dave "Doc" Piltz and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.

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