North Mississippi Allstars blast away New Year’s blues

Tahoe Onstage/ Kurt Johnson

New North Mississippi Allstars bassist Danielle Nicole Schnebelen and Luther Dickinson rock the Crown Room on New Year’s Eve.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Kurt E. Johnson

Reverent, revivalist, rollicking and rock ‘n’ rolling, North Mississippi Allstars provided the winning ticket for ringing in the New Year last night (and parking that lousy old one) with the restorative power of music. Hello, 2017, we feel revitalized!

Kurt Johnson

Luther Dickinson kicks off the new year.

Heavenly voiced and nimble fingered, Marc Broussard opened the show, accompanied by a gleefully demonstative Luther Dickinson. (Dickinson rarely stops smiling, even through fiercely concentrated playing. It’s an infectious thing.) Broussard, from Louisiana, plays Southern blues guitar like harmony to his own melodic vocal prowess, with soft, lullaby crooning, scat-like percussive elements, and strong bluesy wails. With driving jams ranging from swampy and electrifying to the edges of psychedelic, the two Southerners rocked a steamy first set to warm things up for the Allstars.

With two nights in Crystal Bay Casino’s Crown Room to delight the Tahoe crowd, the second night was a particular treat, featuring iconic keyboardist John Medeski and his celestially inspired, jazzy and mystical forays accompanying the Allstar Dickinson brothers. Extraordinary bassist Danielle Nicole Schnebelen, hailing from Kansas City, smiled, laughed and rocked the night away alongside the men in her black, rhinestone-studded, 6-inch stiletto heels. If fun alone determined the quality of a bass player’s aplomb, Schnebelen stole the show. But true talent – amazing, locked-down, phenomenal talent – exuded from her every pore, in her bass playing, her powerfully belted, cajoling blues-woman’s multi-octave voice, and in her supremely playful showmanship. Compared by one fan to Janis Joplin meets George Porter, Schnebelen rocks a force of nature in her every move and her ubiquitous, ineffable smile.

Brothers Cody (consummate drummer, vocals) and Luther Dickinson (innovative guitarist, vocals) took to the stage to the enthusiastic delight of a rowdy, full house. Yet, there was room at the front for those who wanted a close-up view of the musical wizardry the four musicians proceeded to unleash. Medeski opened the show with breezy explorations on his keyboards, joined in turn by each of the other three, in a loose, evocative opening jam. Moving into the first song, “Shake ‘em On Down” from their seminal debut album, “Shake Hands with Shorty,” Luther Dickinson connected easily with the crowd, hearty and loquacious, reminding everyone that North Mississippi Allstars started in 1996 – 20 years of playing and jamming in the studio and on the road. Dickinson’s youthful appearance belies that tally of years; but with this kind of superlative playing, who knows? Maybe the elixir of youth is in the keepin’ on, and the magic of the music.

The band never really stopped playing, moving seamlessly from song to song for a long first set leading up and into the midnight hour. Medeski laid down some crazy hand jive on his keys, while the Dickinson brothers and Schnebelen blazed in tandem. Luther Dickinson makes a superlative frontman, with his ever-grinning, genuinely cheery eyed, obvious love of the music and the adventure of playing it with his comrades. Laughing and dancing toward one another, often chatting as they exchanged complex chords and arrangements, he and Schnebelen kept playfully upping the ante on their blistering jams, with Dickinson urging the crowd on with his assurance of “Tahoe, we got our mojo on!” and “Tahoe, we’re gonna blow this (mofo) out!” Not surprisingly, this drove the New Year’s crowd wild.

Lots of love and goodness flowed among patrons as the music rolled on, riffing effortlessly through beloved North Mississippi Allstars favorites like “Skinny Women,” “Po’ Black Maddie” (with fabulous backing vocals by Schnebelen), and a sweet, stripped down version of “Deep Elem Blues,” featuring brother Cody on teasingly emotive vocals. Luther Dickinson’s delicate yet muscular playing shredded rhythm and lead guitar in one, while Schnebelen bumped and grooved her deep funky notes while sliding up and down the neck of her bass like it was a yo-yo. Cody Dickinson laid down a consistently steady, nuanced (and embellished) back beat, lead entrainment the others joined in on, while Medeski’s mad excursions transported us into other realms; majestic, mysterious sorties. How many extra beats per measure did drummer Cody sneak in? Masterful guitarist Luther, how did he slide and staccato at the same time, playing inconceivable notes from a known entity? As was oft heard rippling throughout the crowd, the band was killing it! Shredding, reconfiguring, deconstructing and emerging into something new, the music (proverbially) never stopped.

Tahoe Onstage

Cody Dickinson behind the drum kit.

Schnebelen took her chance to shine on lead vocals many times, turning her rich, sultry voice on the crowd like a searchlight, aimed straight for the heart. She nailed that, winning over all with her intense beam of rocking enthusiasm, impeccable style, and vocal prowess. Dickinson started playing hip-hop scratch with his finger slide, veritably changing guitar into I know not what, but we all dug it, immensely, eagerly awaiting more. A sweet little melodic number served as interlude to a full on Southern funk rock explosion, and then into a moment of what could only be called prayer, as Brother Luther called to the crowd, “Brothers…Sisters…Mothers, don’t you be worried – See what the Lord has done,” before the band broke into the blistering reprise of the swampy number, led by consummate rocker Dickinson bouncing all over the stage to commune with each of his fellow players, and high-stepping in place in time with each others’ intricate exchanges. Veering off the prepared set list, the band snuck in a funky version of “Not Fade Away,” ever a crowd pleaser at our Dead-infused local jubilees.

Broussard joined the Allstars onstage at midnight for another full and delicious set, leading off by singing acapella, then accompanied by the band in a hearty rendition of the traditional “Auld Lang Syne:” Perfect for a New Year’s stomp at the CBC (some of us remember Sinatra’s days in the ‘hood, after all, and Broussard is a crooner to equal Ol’ Blue Eyes). After Broussard’s gentle welcome into 2017, the happy crowd boogied down to a perfectly rocking “In the Midnight Hour,” followed by Schnebelen’s crystal clear delivery of “Ain’t Superstitious.” Broussard’s amazing, soulful voice chimed in next, and Preacher Luther cajoled the crowd about music’s communal soul, which we all share.

It may sound trite that an artist expounds like this in the midst of a show, but in fact a unified soul, united by music, moved the hearts in the room, seemingly in the positive direction we all desire for the coming year; perhaps Dickinson’s exclamations only said aloud what we all felt. Medeski’s soulful explorations led into a trippy solo, like floating on a river of intricate sound, showcasing the profound depth and contrast in the complex tapestries he lays down, while Luther matched anything the others delivered in intensity and drive. Schnebelen was nothing short of extraordinary, and Cody Dickinson and Marc Broussard, so soulful and well-honed in their rhythmic and vocal chops – well, together, they ALL were an unparalleled celebratory delight. Dickinson snuck in a pared down, almost slack key (then ramped up) version of “Study War No More,” moving into what some believe was the fastest version ever of “Pig in a Pen.” Song after song kept us smiling and dancing long past 1 a.m., including a funky “Lovelight” and a last, high-flying number, “Boogie Hoe Down.”

In the sweetest turn of the night, after yet another incendiary set of jams through those final few songs, Luther Dickinson pulled out an acapella rendition of “We Bid You Goodnight,” appropriate, gentle blessing at the end of a New Year’s show – then picked back up his guitar to let loose one more round of blisteringly rapid guitar fire, joined by the band in full force, before ending on one last firecracker convergence of notes. Luther Dickinson let the satisfied cheering die down before leaving us with one final word, a resolution for every day of 2017: “Music is a prayer for peace.” Hallelujah, brothers and sisters. Hallelujah.

~ Maya Borhani

To see all of Kurt E. Johnson’s photos, click the LINK.

Related story: Danielle Nicole Schnebelen is the newest Allstar. LINK

Tahoe Onstage

Marc Broussard sings in the new year.

Kurt Johnson

John Medeski is in yet another supergroup.

Kurt Johnson / Tahoe Onstage

Danielle Nicole steals the show.

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About Maya Borhani

Maya Borhani grew up rambling the forests above Carnelian Bay, where she first discovered newts, saw bear tracks and bouldered before it was a fad. When not writing or teaching (or ecstatically dancing to live music), you’ll likely find her lakeside, scrambling off trail in search of rarified quiet in the mountain air.

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