The Basement, October 25
How many members of a group should be alive and present for the use of the band’s name to be valid? The Mills Brothers, for instance, performed here with one Brother and three rope-ins. Seriously. As it turns 50 Canned Heat has two almost original members (bassist Larry Taylor and drummer Fito de la Parra, who joined in 1967) and two newish ones (guitarist/singer John Paulus and singer/harmonica player/guitarist Dale Spaulding). With the beloved singers Bob Hite and Al Wilson dying decades ago perhaps they should have changed the name to Canned Cold, although they do have more right to play the three big hits than a covers band.
Yet when they throbbed into the relentless boogie of On The Road Again those validity concerns faded to dust, such was the conviction in the simple groove and such the joy – especially from de la Parra – in doing it. Paulus took the vocal part (originally Wilson’s) and Spaulding unleashed some searing harmonica.
When they turned to material outside of the hits, however, what we had was no more than a competent pub blues band with a few peculiarities, such as the skipping jazziness in de la Parra’s drumming and the eccentricity of Taylor’s bass solos. Spaulding’s voice struggled for dominance in the mix, and Paulus’s occasional singing was only marginally stronger. But the guitar and harmonica solos were consistently engaging, and worthy of the band’s rich heritage on those two instruments.
Going Up The Country, that happiest of hippy anthems and probably the song most associated with Woodstock, bubbled up mid-set, with the original flute parts taken on harmonica and the audience spontaneously finding its voice. Let’s Work Together (with Taylor on slide guitar) came at the end, followed by an extended version of the appropriately titled All Night Long for an encore. If nostalgia slightly outweighed musical merit, nonetheless the fun factor was undeniable.