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North Mississippi Allstars

North Mississippi Allstars

Concert Review | Cubby Bear, Chicago, IL | Saturday, February 06, 2010

Contributing Photographer/Writer : Tom Fennell

Just minutes before the doors opened, the Cubby Bear–located just steps from Chicago’s Wrigley Field–was just another North Side sports bar; countless flat-screen TVs blaring the night’s scores and some Top 40 hits on the jukebox.  By the time the doors open, the line of fans waiting outside to escape the cold had grown to hundreds of feet long.  A tightly-packed column of fans wrapping around the corner with one thing in mind: the rockin’ energy of the North Mississippi Allstars.

The last few tickets available at the door quickly got scooped up by hopeful attendees and the place got full fast.  Equal numbers hustled toward those coveted spots within an arm’s reach of the stage, while others sought some…liquid refreshment.  Their choice was made carefully, because by the time opening act The City Champs took the stage to warm up the crowd, simply moving around the room became tedious; however, the crowd was in good spirits, and the close quarters fostered friendly conversation, nods and dancing as the Champs brought their signature style of three-part instrumental jazz laced with heavy doses of funk and roots rock.

Primed and anticipating a great night, it wasn’t long before the crowd welcomed The North Mississippi Allstars with all the cheers and excitement of true fans in the presence of one of their favorites.  The set kicked off fast and lasted several hours – a mix of the Allstars’ hits from throughout their long career topped with a full battery of guitar power in the capable hands of Luther Dickinson who gave playful looks to the little dances from bassist Chris “Chewie” Chew.

Further into the set, brother and drummer Cody Dickinson was replaced by City Champs’ drummer George Sluppick so that Cody could don that wild, electrified washboard he rocks so often.  With a mix of frantic rhythm and tonal distortion, Cody’s riffs are unlike any percussion or guitar solo out there, bringing a groove all his own to the group’s distinctive sound. They bring the crowd’s excitement level higher, and after an instrumental break, the band graciously doubles down and races back into their set, joined by the remainder of the City Champs, guitarist Joe Restivo and organist Al Gamble. Both trios meld perfectly as they improvise over Allstars standards. The Champs eventually head backstage, and Luther, Cody and Chewie send us home with a few crowd-requested favorites.

Yeah – it was a solid show by some legendary young pros.