As mentioned in my Bonnaroo 2008 report, I discovered Back Door Slam at the festival by happenstance and became a huge fan from this performance. I raved to all who would listen and bought their album Roll Away, which doesn’t do them justice like a live performance where they can really cut loose.
They open the set with Cream’s “Outside Woman Blues,” a band who serves as their template. Starting with a familiar blues-rock sound, they don’t seem much different from many bands that cover the same musical territory. Then at about 2:30, guitarist Davy Knowles first unleashes his mind-blowing talents with a power and intensity that signals this is a young man to keep tabs on. Even with a soundboard mix fully focusing on the band, the crowd is so enthralled they can be heard cheering him on underneath.
The original “Gotta Leave” is a wicked slow blues reminiscent of the kind Led Zeppelin used to play. It’s got heavy lyrics coming from a 21-year-old about affairs of the heart as he implores “How can I trust you/ when you can’t trust yourself?” It’s gut-wrenching if you’ve been in the narrator’s shoes. Listen to the crowd as he makes the guitar sing; you’ll likely hear fellow Bonnarooer Fumo Verde and myself shouting our approval.
They pay tribute to B.B. King, who also played the festival, by playing a song he covered: John Hiatt’s “Riding With The King.” They follow this up with a perfectly apropos song for the setting, CSNY’s “Almost Cut My Hair.” The crowd’s appreciation can be heard growing in intensity, seemingly endless as the sweet licks Knowles lays down.
Offering up an original that stands equally alongside the covers presented, the sure-to-be classic “Come Home” is an infectious song. Adam Jones’ bass lines burrow into the soul before there’s a chance to do anything about it, Ross Doyle’s drums hypnotize, and with no defenses left Knowles knocks the listener senseless. I don’t know how anyone can hear that song and not become a fan.
The band took their name from Robert Cray’s song “Back Door Slam,” so it is only natural they play it. An epic version of Jimi Hendrix’s “Red House,” coming in at almost 11 minutes, would have closed the set, but the crowd did not want them to leave the stage as evidenced by the reaction at the end of the track. BDS gives a rare encore for bands on the smaller stages at Bonnaroo with The Doors’ “Been Down So Long.”
The release of Live at Bonnaroo is a wonderful trip down memory lane, reminiscent of reliving a great date with an old girlfriend through old photographs. It’s slightly bittersweet as the trio no longer plays together, but this album is highly recommended for blues fans not there that amazing June night in Manchester. It is available as a double-vinyl LP and digital download only. There are no plans for a CD release.