The quietest performance of Jimmie Vaughan’s two-hour-plus set at the Barre Opera House October 4th was, probably not coincidentally, one of the most extended ones as well. He introduced it as a ‘sexy, slow’ number and it came right after he invited the audience to fill the open floor area right in front of the stage. The gentle swaying was the order of the moment both on stage and off at this point.
At the other end of the spectrum was a powerhouse version of his younger brother Stevie Ray’s “Texas Flood.” In commemoration of his late sibling’s birthday the day prior (not to mention the thirtieth anniversary of his tragic passing here in 2019), the Austin native and his entire complement of players ratcheted up the volume and intensity of their playing, no doubt a natural extension of their feelings for their departed comrade.
Somewhere in between on the sonic spectrum lie a touching rendition of Vaughan’s self-composed homage to SRV, “Six Strings Gone,” from the 1994 Epic album Strange Pleasure. Even for someone who’d never heard it, the direct references to Alpine Valley, the ‘voodoo child’ and mentions of such genre icons as T-Bone Walker rendered the intent as unmistakable as the warmth of emotion in this gentle but forceful rendering.
Surrounding those tunes were a veritable textbook of blues, soul and r&b numbers, including “No One to Talk To,” the likes of which have populated Vaughan’s last two records, Live at C-Boy’s and Baby Please Come Home. Notwithstanding Jimmie playing with his Fender guitar behind his head on “The Crawl,” there was a minimum of flash and a maximum of understated, potent playing. It was only fitting he would make his main statement(s) with his instrument, but fortuitous too as intermittent cutouts of his vocal mike occurred throughout the performance.
This blues stylist par excellence may perform no less informally when he’s in the Texas club where he recorded his aforementioned concert release. At this Vermont date, he came off down to earth, self-effacing and inclusive, so much so he convinced the house lights to be turned on the audience in order to see who he was playing for. And quite rightly so, for it was a gathering in fact so devoted to Vaughan that a mere two claps of his hands had most of those in attendance right in time with him at a couple of points (and at least one other spontaneously interval).
And as this single extended set wore on, with members of his septet coming and going, Jimmie had a chance to offer a revue in which his selection of material carefully reflected his roots as much as (or more than) his musical tastes. In his homage to guitarist Phil Upchurch,“You Can’t Sit Down,” he took his audience to another time altogether (in this case, as he related, his childhood days at the Dairy Queen jukebox), while in another of the notable ironies of the night, he did so when there were the fewest musicians on stage, organist/vocalist Mike Flanigin on his right and (deserved) local favorite drummer Jason Corbiere playing assertively behind him. (Those happened to be the only two he introduced all evening besides saxophonist Doug James and trumpeter Mike Rinta—second guitarist Billy Pitman and double bassist Billy Horton went unfortunately unheralded)
Succinctly described in a whisper by one attendee as ‘sublime,’ the enveloping sensation of “Frame For The Blues,” to name just one trio tune, was out of proportion to their alignment. And while Bruce Channel’s “Hey Baby” was the crowd-pleaser through its familiarity with those in attendance, it was no more stylishly rendered than T-Bone’s “I’m Still In Love With You” or the title tune from the latest JV record. In the stripped-down setting, Jimmie Vaughan had a chance to spotlight the deceptively plain guitar style he’s honed over the years. Then, when surrounded by all seven players, he went on to demonstrate how smoothly he works with other musicians.
He seems to take as much pleasure from inserting little rhythm figures into the mix as taking a solo and most of the latter intervals mirrored the individual performances throughout this brisk fall night: short, sweet and to the point, right up to and including the fourth(!) number in the extended encore. And the band might well have kept playing even after the house lights had come up.
Chuck Berry once told a story of “… Johnny B. Goode… who could play a guitar like a-ringin’ a bell…,” and he might well have been describing how Jimmie Vaughan sounded this brisk moonlit Friday night in the Green Mountains.