North Mississippi Allstars rolled into Venice, California to headline a new club appropriately called “The Venice West” on February 2, 2022. The band led by the Dickinson Brothers (Luther and Cody) had just released its thirteenth album Set Sail the prior Friday (1/28), so new music as well as tracks from their more than 22-year-old catalog were on the agenda.
The Venice West is a 200-capacity dinner club open since October 2021 located near Venice Beach. The cozy rectangular room and fine sound system provided pristine acoustics for the band’s performance. Luther and Cody have been together as the core of the band for over 25 years. More recently, Lamar Williams Jr. on vocals and Jesse Williams on bass (no relation) have made poignant additions to the band as they have helped usher in a more R&B flavor to the band, as evidenced by the Nile Rodgers flavored “See The Moon.”
Luther and Williams Jr. opened the show with an impromptu, two-song duet with Luther on amplified acoustic guitar while he and Lamar sang a couple of mellow, soulful tunes. Williams Jr. has a solid, expressively soulful voice that is a great complement to Luther’s bluesy vocals.
The full band came out and performed several new songs from Set Sail over the course of the two-hour set. The title song and “Bumpin’” sizzled with the band’s southern rock style infused with Williams, Jr.’s soul influence. “See the Moon,” “Juicy Juice” and “Rabbit Foot” mixed in well with their older material giving attendees a well-thought-out setlist. Luther played a variety of guitars and successfully used several electronic pedals and effects to vary the tone of his sound: also adding to the diversity was Luther and Williams Jr. alternating on lead vocals.
On “Skinny Woman,” Luther used reverb and sustain effects with his Gibson Les Paul and played an impressive slide solo. On “See the Moon,” both Luther and Williams Jr. sang poignantly while Cody did double duty playing drums with his right hand and a miniature keyboard with his left hand. For “Bye Bye Baby,” Luther and Lamar sang while Luther used to sustain and echo effects with his Fender Telecaster.
About midway through the show, Luther introduced his friend Johnny Stachela, who came out to play guitar. Stachela is a lead guitarist with Allman Betts Band that is currently on hiatus. They launched into “Up and Rolling,” the title song from the band’s 2019 album. Luther sang and played a finger-picking solo before giving way to Stachela who played an intense slide-guitar lead. That lead smoothly segued into a nice, couple-minute dip into The Allman Brothers Band’s epic “Mountain Jam.” Luther and Johnny traded licks for a few minutes before the song transitioned back to the conclusion of “Up and Rolling.”
After Stachela left the stage, the band ran through a few more of their older songs and a steamy version of Howlin’ Wolf’s “I Ain’t Superstitious” that really showed off Williams Jr.’s vocal depth. The closing highlights included a creative Fender Telecaster slide solo by Luther during “Shake ’em on Down” and some sweet vocal harmonizing by Luther, Cody, and Lamar during the show-ending “Goin’ Down South.” North Mississippi Allstars have certainly been around a while, yet this 2022 chapter is perhaps the band’s most fervent.
Live photos courtesy of Andy J. Gordon ©2022.