Last night I finally had a chance to hear Alan Sparhawk's Retribution Gospel Choir, one of several bands he performs with. First impressions: it's the reincarnation of the Jimi Hendrix Experience, but not. That is to say, the three piece band had that Hendrix structure, but put Lou Reed on bass.
The What Four opened the night with an acoustic set, followed by eeriearq and the rocking Reggae band Uprising. Then Sparhawk and team quietly plugged in and took over.
When that first bass note rattled the floor boards under my feet I knew something serious was coming down. Sparhawk followed with singular intensity, accompanied by an accomplished drummer who could easily have been Mitch Mitchell's stand in. Retribution Gospel Choir was the fourth band of the night in a benefit concert for autism at the Clyde Iron Works in West Duluth.
My first encounter with Sparhawk was through his participation in the 3N6D performance 14 months ago at The Venue. John Heino's collaboration brainchild brought together a film maker, dancer and musician for a Happening-like experience that he himself photographed. Sparhawk's eerie, subdued innovations helped carry the imagination for those who drank it in, a feast for eyes and ears. So I did not know what to expect. last night....
Sparhawk is part of several bands, perhaps most famously Low, which has recorded eight albums. In 2010 Robert Plant, former lead singer for Led Zeppelin, recorded two of Low's songs, "Silver Rider" and "Monkey," for his Band of Joy album. Sparhawk made headlines earlier this year when Plant's recording of "Silver Rider" was nominated for a Grammy.
Sparhawk also plays with two other bands, the Black Eyed Snakes (blues) and Los Besos. He's also recorded some solo guitar work.
Though born in Seattle (another Hendrix connection) his family moved to Utah where he was raised and ultimately married his childhood sweetheart. They are unabashed Mormons, now living here in the Duluth with their two children, contributing to a local music scene which seems to be broiling with vitality right now. I was told last night his band does a month in Germany each year. I can see from his willingness to be so poured out in a performance of even modest size that he could really rattle the rafters in any sized venue. His band held nothing back, and their fans drank it in.
It got kind of late for some who get up for work early, but it was a good cause, and a show many of us did not want to miss.
Lower right: Alan Sparhawk mugs for the camera.