JD Wilkes led his Legendary Shack Shakers onto to the stage before a healthy gathering of the faithful to deliver another exhilarating show. They opened in acoustic mode with Wiles on banjo, new guitarist Gary Siperko on acoustic guitar, upright bassist Fuller Condon and Preston Corn on percussion complete the line-up. The later pair appear on the band’s latest album After You’ve Gone and have both toured with the band previously while Siperko has replaced the departed Rod Hamdallah. He immediately makes his presence felt from the start with some fast and furious guitar breaks that bring comment from Wilkes who plays up the guitarist’s skill with mock jealousy.
The material played on the evening came from all parts of the their career to date including the most recent album After You’ve Gone and the solo JD Wilkes album Fire Dream as well as traditional songs and blues covers. Sugar Baby was a Dock Boggs song. Others included Silm Harpo’s Hip Shake which was an extended showcase for Siperko, one that allowed all the band to stretch out. As with many of the best live bands these songs take on a whole different persona when performed in front of an audience. Songs came from the debut album Cockadoodlerdon’t which was released back in 2003 (Devil’s Night Auction, Hip Shake), through The Southern Surreal (Mud), Swampland (Old Spur Line), Pandelirium (Jipsy Valentine) as well as from the Dirt Daubers’ album Wake Up Sinners. All given, with this current line-up, a new lease of life and a different musical patina.
Without losing their edge these songs were somewhat less visceral than of yore - a fact that Wilkes noted when asking the audience to come closer to the stage front stating that their drinks would be safe from sprayed bodily fluids that were a feature of the band’s shows over the last 20 years. Since founding in 1995 there can be no doubt that the intensity and sheer volume of the stage show has changed since that time but the performance still retains that exciting edge that sees Wilkes remain one of the most underrated frontmen of recent times. He is compulsive, a can’t take your eyes of him, band leader. He is continually throwing shapes, pulling faces and making contact with his audience while giving those onstage with him space to deliver their end of the bargain. No less so than when Siperko switches to a big red Gretch for the main part of the show and displays a speed and fluidity of playing that perfectly matches Wilkes hi-energy delivery.
Wilkes is a top notch harmonica player and the smallest of instruments again showed how it can be, in the hands of a master, a sonic match for any other instrument. His first instrument he told us came from his Grand-father and he wondered how many other mouths had it been in before he got it! He is also a collector of vintage harmonicas and brings out one from his collection that has mini-horns attached to increase it’s volume pre amplification! He also plays the banjo on a number of songs. At one point he summons a young lady friend up to play banjo and add backing vocals for a couple of numbers.
The Legendary Shack Shakers lived up to their reputation and delivered a set of blues and roots songs that displayed an evolving entity and testament to an other worldliness, steeped in regional musical history where entertainment and story telling were a fundamental element of a live performance. This they achieved with style, and in Wilkes’ case, no little sweat and toil, creating a performance that demanded the audience forget their day-to-day worries and lose themselves in the time that stood before the stage.
Set list in JD's hand writing.
Review by Stephen Rapid Photography by Kaethe Burt O'Dea