Review: Super jam Dragon Smoke lays it on thick at Tahoe

Tahoe Onstage

Eric Lindell plays fiery Dragon Smoke licks at the Crystal Bay Casino on Nov. 29, 2017.
Tahoe Onstage photos by Larry Sabo

“That’s what I love about these guys, they’ll play anything!” said a smiling Eric Lindell after he and New Orleans super jam quartet Dragon Smoke playfully rolled through a bluegrass version of Manfred Mann’s U.K. pop hit “Fox On The Run” Wednesday night at Crystal Bay’s Crown Room.

The genre would seem an odd choice for a foursome whose main influences are bluesy soul, R&B, funk and jazz. However, the playful glances and giggles exchanged onstage showed the pure joy the four musicians have playing together and challenging one another as they’ve done at every New Orleans Jazz Fest since 2003.

Tahoe Onstage

Stanton Moore has all hands on set.

Lindell, handling guitar duties and sharing lead vocals with Dumpstaphunk keyboardist Ivan Neville, spent much of the first few songs restringing his guitar after aggressively over-cranking the twangy tones from his pink and sparkly decorated Telecaster. No worries — Neville simply took over lead duties and Galactic’s groove duo, Stanton Moore on drums and Robert Mercurio on bass, slanted their funky jazz rhythms towards R&B as a trio featuring Neville while someone hunted down more strings for Lindell to bust.

The set featured Eric Lindell tunes and a slew of covers that the foursome spun together with their own unique take. Allen Toussaint’s “Yes We Can Can” really got the rythhm rolling with Lindell’s Tele pieced back together and Neville paying tribute to Toussaint with excited vocals and a spirited keys solo. With the crowd in a lather, Dragon Smoke took things a little higher, mashing together The Steve Miller Band’s “Space Cowboy” with gangster of love Lindell singing lead before transitioning to Neville on a reggae-ish “Free Fallin’” tribute to Tom Petty. Both songs featured solo work from Lindell and Neville as well as the crowd providing the familiar chorus.

Peter Joseph Burtt, who will appear in Crystal Bay’s Red Room tonight night, was then urged from the wings by Lindell to hop onstage and sing lead on Lindell’s “Take Me Back” before one of the most interesting versions of the Eagles “Life In The Fast Lane” I’ve heard. Played in a bluesy, New Orleans swing style, it bore little resemblance to the original. Dragon Smoke’s interpretation was a collective from the core of each of the musicians’ souls. Neville’s R&B-flavored vocals provided a unique cadence, and a clean and sharply picked solo from Lindell, on top of the great groove from Mercurio and Moore, made the classic all their own.

A deep-funk “Padlock” and a John Denver “Country Roads” / Bob Marley “Three Little Birds” interpolation served as a closer before the band returned for a jammed-out cover of Eric Clapton’s “Lay Down Sally.” While the Tahoe and Reno area see their main bands on a regular basis (Galactic appears at Crystal Bay March 25) the San Mateo-born Lindell is able to share this super jam with us out West every so often. Outside of New Orleans, where they play regularly, the rest of the country misses out. To quote the title of one of Lindell’s tunes, “Lucky Lucky.”  We are indeed.

-Michael Smyth

Related story: Peter Joseph Burtt is the musical jewel of the Sierra.
Related story: Galactic loves Crystal Bay.

  • Dragon Smoke
    Crystal Bay Casino
    Nov. 29, 2017
    The Good Times
    New Orleans
    Big House
    Woman Be Woman
    Two Bit Town
    Yes We Can Can
    Space Cowboy > Free Fallin’
    Take Me Back (Peter Joseph Burtt – Vocals)
    Life In The Fast Lane
    Fox On The Run
    Country Roads > Three Little Birds
    Lay Down SallyClick to see all of Larry Sabo’s photos from the show.

    Tahoe Onstage

    Ivan Neville at the keys for Dragon Smoke.

    Tahoe Onstage

    Robert Mercurio’s other band is Galactic.

    Tahoe Onstage

    Lake Tahoe’s Peter Joseph Burtt joins Dragon Smoke to sing his song “Take Me Back.”

About Michael Smyth

Michael Smyth moved to Reno in 2007 after living more than 40 years in the Bay Area. In addition to going to live shows, he enjoys golf, skiing and fly-fishing. Check out his website

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