Jorma Kaukonen’s distinctive vocals help Hot Tuna get tasty in Vancouver

charles campbell photo


By Steve Newton

An acoustic concert can be quite a scary thing to those people, like myself, who thrive on raunchy guitars and rock-steady rhythms. But you’ve got to be brave sometimes, and realizing that I headed down to the Commodore last Thursday (February 25) to see an acoustic performance by that fine ambassador of ’60s psychedelic folk, Hot Tuna.

Guitarist-vocalist Jorma Kaukonen is, and always has been, the heart of Hot Tuna. Last Thursday it was Kaukonen sitting stage left on six-string guitar, Jack Casady in the middle on acoustic bass, and Jefferson Airplane/Starship alumnus Paul Kantner at stage right on the 12-string. With the three players huddled together, the concert took on the tone of an impromptu campfire jam–and accordingly it turned out to be a pretty laid-back, slow-paced affair.

It had its highlights, though, the main one being Kaukonen’s distinctively mellow, rambling vocals. They’re hard to describe (certain bits reminded me of Dylan, Mark Knopfler, and even Ronnie Van Zant), but they sure sound good alongside Jorma’s toe-tapping, ragtime-flavoured blues playing. He used them to full effect on numbers like “That’ll Never Happen No More” and the traditional “Hesitation Blues”. “You can turn on your tape recorders for this one,” he announced before starting into the Tuna fave “Keep Your Lamps Trimmed and Burning”.

Paul Kantner shared the night’s lead vocals with Kaukonen, concentrating on the more folky storytelling material like “The Other Side of This Life”, a tune off Jefferson Airplane’s 1969 live album Bless Its Pointed Little Head. He also dedicated the song “Mariel” to Nicaragua’s U.N. ambassador Nora Astorga, who died of cancer on Valentine’s Day. Kantner met Astorga when she invited him to perform at her country’s Independence Day celebration. (Paul Kantner’s Nicaragua Diary, the book Kantner wrote while visiting the war-torn country last summer, has just been published. It’s subtitled What I Did on My Summer Vacation, or I Was a Commie Dupe for the Sandinistas.)

Kantner’s rhythm guitar playing was a bit shaky at times, but thankfully Casady is the sort of bassist who can easily cover up and keep the songs on the right groove. The latter also pulled off some real nice solos, which induced howls of delight from the audience, most of whom appeared to be in their mid- to late-30s. A set-closing rendition of Jefferson Airplane’s “Volunteers” also hit the spot, and had several Commodore patrons out on the dance floor, twirling effortlessly in nostalgic bliss.


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